My honor student/football player son Berto unabashedly asked his teacher before his fifth grade peers how on earth Santa was able to deliver presents in both the northern and southern hemispheres on the same night. From what he described to me later, his teacher fumbled the question and then tried valiantly to recover an appropriate answer. Kudos to her, she must have been completely taken aback that this spike-haired boy still believed, and with such confidence, that he would ask that question in school.
On one hand, it is completely charming that my 11-year-old believes. On the other hand, I wish to tell him the truth about the spirit of St. Nicholas for the purely selfish reason of relieving the pressure on his dad and me.
But then again...the other day I found myself contemplating certain gifts for my children, picturing them by the tree, and I thought, "That would be great! How clever of Santa; he always knows."
I'm one of him, and I believe. The bell still rings for me.
Berto had a debate with his friends about the big guy. They described all the fabulous, most outrageous gifts they'd received - XBoxes, IPads, televisions, computers - and stated that no big man in a reindeer-pulled sleigh had gotten them such treasures. No, parents were the benefactors (or culprits).
Berto said, "Yeah, right! Parents are getting you all those expensive things? They have thousands of dollars? No way!"
As Berto was recounting all this to me, I got a little tense at this point. Santa has never brought any of our kids a game system or high-priced electronic device, so I just had to ask:
"Why do you think Santa has never brought you those things, Berto?"
My son got quiet. My question had not raised this conundrum. It had been bothering him.
"I don't know." A pause and then, "Probably because he knows my little brother and sisters might mess with it...or because our house is small."
Yes, my kids know I don't buy many things, because I feel already the crushing weight of clutter in our home with which I wage a constant, losing battle.
"Well, that true." I had to tread carefully. "It's also not our values, too, right? Mama and Papa don't believe in asking Santa for a ton of expensive things; that's taking advantage, right? You guys get to ask him for three things at most."
"Yeah, but he still brings other kids all this crazy stuff - Wiis and tons of games to go with it, too."
"Well, I think your friends are right..." I took a big breath.
I could feel the energy change in the back seat. Just what was Mama about to say?
"I think some parents must be helping St. Nick out a little."
"By giving him money?"
"No - no! No one ever gives Santa money. No, that wouldn't be in the spirit of things. By adding gifts."
It wasn't correct, but what could I say?
A couple days ago we were listening to the true story of Santa Claus on CD - the one about a certain Bishop, now St. Nicolas, who became famous for helping the poor by secretly leaving gold and other gifts, giving away his whole inheritance. My eyes were watering at the story's end, and Berto said, "They made it sound like he died. And I don't like something they said at the beginning either."
The narrator said that the story was that of the original Santa Claus.
I was mute.
Yes, I want to tell my handsome boy about the generous spirit of St Nick kept alive by parents, church giving trees, the Salvation Army, Toys for Tots and so very much more. I want to tell him that he can be a Santa Claus, too, and honor his patron saint in so many ways, that he has already done so each year when choosing toys for children in struggling families. But, then, he will know...eventually.
I've told my husband I think we should tell him, but my husband responded that he was never told. Even when we went to his parents' house for Christmas the year we married, there were gifts from Santa. Some of my friends say they were never told, either, and they're glad.
Now many adults know the legend sprang from the actions of a boy bishop almost 1700 years ago - helped not a little by mythology and commercial opportunists. Yes, we know.
A little miracle is that somehow, in a small but precious way - even for those of us who eschew extravagance and elves - the child within us still believes.
Three Bears and a Box Full of Toys
Imagine St. Nick (warning: major spoiler)
Short, Mostly Unedited - Christmas