Friday, December 23, 2011


            Last year I was contacted by a woman who was starting a new website for mothers and wanted me to contribute some of my writing. She was enthusiastic and excited about the project and I was flattered to be a part of it. Unfortunately, she left the project and the website never launched. This is a piece that would have been published after Christmas. I hope you enjoy it.

             A couple of weeks before Christmas, my son James noticed a box wrapped in bright green and pink snowman on the dining room table. “Mommy, who is that present for?” The tag was printed with the words: Isaiah, aged 5, Toy Story toy.
            “It’s for the giving tree program at Daddy’s work. We picked out a present for a little boy who might not get one this year.” I explained.
            “Why wouldn’t Santa give him something?” My older son chimed in. Owen is an eight-years old man of science and has been asking for proof of Santa’s existence lately. He even asked if we could set up a video camera to tape Santa on Christmas Eve. I could see the wheels turning in his head—perhaps this line of questioning could lead him to the truth.
            I fumbled for an answer. It had occurred to me that sooner or later the charitable giving that is so visible at Christmas time doesn’t quite resonate with the image of Santa. Doesn’t he bring toys to all the good girls and boys? Why is he leaving the poor ones off his list? Why are there giving trees at the Y, and school, and church? Why are there Toys for Tots boxes at Toys R Us and coat collection boxes at the mall?
            My husband managed an answer, “Some of these kids don’t have regular homes—they live in shelters or foster homes. So it’s hard for Santa to find them.”
            James was satisfied with the answer and went back to watching Saturday morning cartoons. Owen looked at me like he had more questions but uncharacteristically, he decided not to ask them. I think deep down he knows the truth. But he’s bright enough to know that fantasy can be a lot more fun than reality sometimes.
            Most of the time he has the courtesy to ask his questions out of earshot of his little brother. My employer hosted a holiday party for the children of employees in early December. “Santa” had made an appearance. Owen leaned forward and whispered to me, “I don’t think that is the real Santa. His beard isn’t real.” I looked over at the good sport dressed in a red velvet suit and silky white beard. One of the department managers dresses up as Santa every year. He is a big guy with a wonderful booming, “Ho Ho Ho!” Owen was right though—the beard was a fake. We have been coming to this party for four years and it was the first time Owen had noticed.
“Oh, sure.” I said. “Santa is much too busy to leave the North Pole this time of year. He has lots of helpers to come to the parties and go to the mall so kids can get their pictures taken. Thanks for asking quietly so James didn’t hear.”
Owen gave me a look like we were in on a secret together. So maybe there really is a Santa Claus—it just isn’t this guy.
He still believes strongly enough to have written a letter to Santa this year. Along with the usual assurances to Santa that he has been good and requests for Beyblades, Legos, and Star Wars action figures, he requested that Santa send a picture of himself. On Christmas morning, there was a little gift box resting on the banister that contained a jingle bell like the one Santa gives to the boy in The Polar Express and this letter:

Dear Owen,
            Thank you for taking the time to write to me. I love getting letters from boys and girls. I do not send out pictures of myself because I like to take vacations during the summer and I prefer it if no one recognizes me. You can imagine how many autographs I would have to sign! Who knows, maybe my next vacation will take me to New England. I hear the beaches there are really nice.
Merry Christmas, Owen. Keep up the good work!
                        Your friend,

            Owen was delighted with his letter. More importantly, he was satisfied with Santa’s explanation—for now. I know I only have another year or two of my children believing in Santa Claus. I certainly don’t expect them to be babies forever. I love watching them grow and change with the years. It is fascinating to see toddling turn into walking and babbling turn into talking. Watching belief in Santa fade makes me a little sad though. The word “magic” gets over-used at Christmas time, but I can’t think of a better word to describe children’s reactions to all the wonderful once-a-year details: candy canes, houses lit up like Clark Griswold’s, Christmas music, making gingerbread men with way too much frosting, and of course, Santa Claus. Each year my boys continue to believe in jolly old St. Nick is a Merry Christmas at my house.

            This year, Owen knows there is no Santa and it’s really okay. We had a chat before we were too far into the Christmas season. He’s agreed to keep the secret from his little brother and in some ways he is my co-conspirator. Owen even gets annoyed at kids at school who loudly declare there is no Santa. He may not believe, but he understands how magical it is for those who do.