As long as I can remember, I have spent the Thanksgiving-through-New-Year’s season feeling buoyant and hopeful. On December mornings like today’s, when the temperatures are below freezing and the grass is coated with frost, I have always found it easy to catch the Christmas spirit.
But even for people like me, the appreciation we feel for this time of year is increased many times over when we become parents. Watching our children’s faces light up with wonder, we remember how we felt at this time of year when we were kids. Surely, even the most jaded adult must have fond recollections of Christmas Past and hope that today’s tykes are enjoying Christmas Present.
When Sarah was two, I am pretty sure she remembered Christmas from when she was one, but I know she remembered it when she was three. That was the year we got a flat tire while driving to the annual Christmas Eve party for my extended family. It was dark and cloudy and we were stranded for some time on a rural road -- a circumstance that would usually lead to bad moods and quick tempers. But when the lights of an airplane tracking through the clouds became visible, I pointed to them and told Sarah it was Santa’s sleigh. Her face immediately lit up. She pointed at the lights and wiggled and shrieked to Erika: “Mommy! Mommy! It’s Santa! It’s Santa!” And a potentially bad experience was transformed into a golden moment that will never be forgotten.
Exactly one year later, when she was four, getting her to go to bed on Christmas Eve proved next to impossible. For what seemed like hours, she kept getting up every few minutes and running into our room, laughing and jumping and swearing that through her window she had just seen Santa’s sleigh in the sky. Then she started saying that she thought she heard reindeer on the roof. And she kept getting up and making these claims over and over and over again…
When she was five, we took her to Disney World on December 23rd, and the
The next night saw more classic, Christmas Eve moments. Sarah claimed she saw Rudolph’s nose in the sky on our way home from the annual party. Before bed she made a trail of cookies in our driveway to lead the reindeer to our door. At the end was a marshmallow snowman cookie, along with a note on which she wrote: “Rudolph only.”
Finally, inside our home on her own small table by the tree, Sarah left milk and cookies, and an unfortunately broken candy cane, out for Santa. We disposed of the food and drink before she awoke, and Erika was sure to leave cookie crumbs on the plate next to the empty glass. Erika also composed a thank you note from Santa to Sarah. We had already turned this into a tradition, and Sarah reveled in it again.
Sarah is now six. For the third December in a row she is rising before the roosters every single morning, opening her Advent Box and finding where the Elf on the Shelf has moved to. She is smart as a whip and I did not expect her to still believe in Santa last year, but now it is a whole year later and she continues to believe.
We have always told her that Christmas is to commemorate the birth of Jesus, and is about giving rather than receiving, and she seems to get it. Two years ago, when we told her that after opening her gifts she had to choose one to give away to the poor, she countered by asking if she could give away ten of her old toys rather than one of her new ones.
When Sarah was born, we actually said that we would not even do the Santa thing, specifically to avoid the dreaded conversation in which we would have to admit (there’s no delicate way to put this) that we have been lying to her all these years. Then Christmas came and we did the Santa thing anyway, and although I have some reservations, I don’t have any regrets when I watch her enjoy herself. Her excitement heightens mine and Erika’s, and I am serene in my confidence that she will look back on these days with happiness. After all, one of my fondest memories of Christmas Past is of the year my parents broke the news to me that Santa is not real. The memory involves a chalkboard, but that is a story I will share another time, perhaps another year.
The bottom line is this: I love Christmas to begin with, but I love it even more because of my little girl. Erika and I can not wait to keep making new memories with her and her little sibling, who right now is resting snugly in Erika's womb.