When I was a child Santa Claus was a big deal. I was a true believer. It was important to be especially good at Christmas time or Santa might just fly over and not stop. Come Christmas Eve, I was amazed at how presents somehow mysteriously appeared under the tree after returning home from a drive in the country. The treats left for Santa were half eaten. The huge footsteps in the snow were Santa's.
I remember being eight years old when my mother sat me down for the Santa Claus lecture. Apparently, I had committed the sin of being a too ardent believer in ol' Kris Kringle long past the age of innocence. My mother tried to explain that Christmas was about the spirit of giving and that Santa Claus wasn't actually a real person just a symbol of that spirit. I remember being very angry with my mother. "What? You couldn't wait until AFTER Christmas to tell me about all this spirit stuff? You had to ruin Christmas?" The truth is I'm still mad about that after all these years. I forgave her for a lot of things, but I never forgave that.
When I had my own children, I certainly encouraged the Santa myth. When my oldest daughter was four, we celebrated Christmas at my parents. Looking out the window, my daughter started to jump up and down and squeal. She had spotted Santa running through the snow in his bright red suit. She was beside herself with joy. Her cousins laughed. "That's not Santa. That's Uncle Bob." Their cynicism could not spoil the moment for her. She was a true believer. I let her sort out the truth on her own when she was ready for it.
Fast forward and I now have grandchildren, six-year old Jake and four-year old Kylie. My grandson is a true believer; my granddaughter is somewhat cynical. Jake has an "elf on the shelf" named Bennie, a sort of scout elf who checks things out for Santa to make sure who is naughty or nice. Bennie mysteriously changes his location in the house every day. You're not supposed to touch him, according to Jake, or he might lose his power. Kylie doesn't think much of Bennie and asks her mother to touch Bennie so he loses his power and his status is reduced to that of an ordinary toy.
To believe or not believe. I think it's a wonderful thing to encourage fanciful dreaming in a child--that little touch of magic that will serve him or her well in adulthood. It's like lighting a candle in the window of your soul and being transfixed by the flame as it dances and flickers in the dark.
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