The Question

 

I should have seen it coming.

It’s basically a rite of passage that nearly every child must face, and my son is, after all, a very smart fourth-grader. Besides, he’s my third child; I’ve done this twice before and I should have been better prepared.

This time, it hurt. Maybe it’s because he’s my baby, my last little one, my late-in-life “bonus” child. Or maybe it’s because I’m just older and more emotional now than I was ten years ago when his siblings asked The Question.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. They never really asked. They just sort of figured it out and made the transition without any kind of trauma or fallout. I guess I expected it to go just as smoothly this time around.

Yesterday, my little Rooster looked at me with those great big blue eyes that are impossible to lie to, and he asked me in his direct way, “Mom, do you believe in Santa?”

I wish he’d asked me if Santa is real. That would have been easier to answer.

santa
Ah, the good old days!

 

 

Do I believe in Santa?

I was eight years old when I asked my mom for the truth. She wasn’t always a great mother, but she had a few moments of brilliance, and that was one of them. I remember how she explained to me that Santa is indeed real. Not as a jolly fat man in a red suit, she explained, but in the spirit of giving to others. He’s real in our hearts as long as we keep him alive in the joy of Christmas morning, in the happiness that comes with believing in something that we can’t see or touch or prove. As long as we believe in magic.

I realize now that she borrowed pretty heavily from Francis Church’s 1897 editorial assuring a little girl that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” but it did the job. I felt so grown up when she trusted me with the truth, and even more so when she woke me up at midnight to help her put the presents under the tree. It’s one of my best Christmas memories.

So I would have known how to answer my son if he had asked me if Santa is real. I like to think I would have been just as helpful (if unoriginal) as Mom was.

But do I believe in Santa?

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! … Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. 

— “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”

 

I used to believe. Even as an adult, rushing around to get the gifts and make the food and dress the kids in their holiday best before hurrying off yet to another family gathering with this aunt or that grandma or those aunts and uncles and cousins. In the midst of the whirlwind, I believed.

In Polar Express, Santa says, “This bell is a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas – as am I. Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.”

Oh, the true spirit of Christmas was in my heart!

Christmas is different now for my little Rooster than it was for his brother and sister, who are a decade older. There are fewer family gatherings, and the family that gathers is so much smaller now. The few remaining members of my side of the family tree don’t even get together for holidays any more; my ex-husband’s side has drifted over the years until my youngest barely even knows his cousins.

There have been divorces and remarriages and deaths; children have grown up and moved out and become adults with lives of their own, and something about Christmas just doesn’t feel like Christmas any more.

It’s just Rooster and me in my little apartment now. I thought about getting a smaller tree this year and not even dragging out the big boxes of ornaments and decorations. After all, it’s not like anyone will actually see any of them. It’s just him and me now. Is it even worth it to haul out the Christmas mugs and the homemade ceramic nativity set? The latch hook toilet cover? The Christmas quilt I sewed for Aunt Marian?

Is it really worth it?

Do I believe in Santa?

Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.

— Polar Express

I must have hesitated too long. My little boy crawled under the rocking chair and refused to look at me. “I knew about the Tooth Fairy,” he told me. “And the Easter Bunny. But I wanted to believe in Santa.”

So did I, Sweetheart. So did I. 

“I don’t want to do Christmas this year,” he added.

My heart broke, just a little.

His father arrived shortly after that to pick him up, and we talked about it as a family. A fractured family, perhaps, but still a family. Rooster seemed to perk up a little bit before crawling out of his hiding place. A year ago, he would have curled up on my lap and dried his tears on the front of my shirt; this year, he wants desperately to prove that he is too old for that. A quick hug, and he was out the door before I realized that I had never actually answered him.

Do I believe in Santa?

I don’t know how long I sat there alone, asking myself that question. Long enough for it to get dark outside, dark enough for me to see the Christmas lights in the park in the center of my little town.

The lights reminded me of my family’s tradition of visiting Kalamazoo’s Bronson Park to see the decorations every year. My sisters and I would race each other down “Candy Cane Lane” and slide down the little snowy hill between the Wisemen and their camels. We’d snicker every year about the cracks and chipped paint on the faces of Mary and Joseph before dashing away to gaze in awe at all the lights on the trees — especially the giant Salvation Army tree.

Most of those trees were destroyed with the tornado went through downtown Kalamazoo in 1980. That cheesy old Nativity scene is long gone, and there are no more decorations placed on the snowy hill because it turned out to be an Indian burial mound. It’s the same park, but it’s not the same.

Or is it?

It’s still Christmas. Different trees, different decorations, different ways of celebrating. We can still go to Kalamazoo and race each other down “Candy Cane Lane” or catch a ride on the Holly Jolly Trolley, or we can stay right here in our own town and attend the tree-lighting party in the park, surrounded by our friends and neighbors.

We can make new traditions because it’s still Christmas.

It’s still Christmas, and we have each other, and we have memories, new and old. We still love each other, despite divorce and distance and paths that have taken some of us in different directions. There are moments of sadness, it’s true, but there are moments of joy as well, and it’s up to us to hang on to all of those moments and cherish them for what they are.

Do I believe in Santa?

Absolutely.

 

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

— “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”

Advertisements

One thought on “The Question

  1. Aw, my heart melted when I read “I knew about the Tooth Fairy,” he told me. “And the Easter Bunny. But I wanted to believe in Santa.” Bless him.
    As for the Christmas decorations I suggest you get out your fave. You needn’t put everything up but just a select few. I’m not doing the full on mantel this year I just decided. I’ll put up my faves and the twinkle lights.
    Here’s to making NEW traditions!

    Like

Got an opinion? Please share it here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s