Letting Life Lead
That’s the age I knew, through evidence analysis, that Santa wasn’t real in a singular way. I let go of a lot of things, but that pipe-smoking, jolly, old elf I held onto.
I wouldn’t use the words whimsical or artsy to describe my mother. Particular; intense; fierce — yes. Our philosophies of living clash like plaid and paisley. Christmas, though, held a special magic and was one of the few times I remember witnessing real, joyful effort in creating fun fantasy.
The logic receptors in my brain lit up one day and I just knew.
My mom played the game a little too long and made a few key mistakes. Santa’s wrapping paper was the same as ours, and the way he used tape and crisp, precise, creased corners on the package were too impeccable to be mystical, but perfect enough to be mom.
I also never got that pony.
I wanted a lot of things to be real, but they weren’t (that got me into some religious trouble the year before). I believed in Santa and Mrs. Claus because I knew, in a way, “they” were real. How can Santa be everywhere all at once? How could he be in every mall simultaneously? Why does he look different in other countries? How can he know what you are up to without being a creepy stranger? How can he get into the house without a chimney? Why does it look like the toys are manufactured by machines not handmade by elves?
Parents, family, and people.
That was the secret.
I was so pleased with myself for my sleuthing skills that I continued to play along voluntarily. That Christmas I realized that my then single mom had no gifts under our fat, fake tree with the number nine bulbs.
I found a trinket in my room, wrapped and taped it in tissue so tight that it would have survived space, taped it to a too-big box, wrapped it in too much paper, and scrawled my mother’s name on a tag. I wanted her to have something to open. I wanted her to know that I understood that the magic was not just in the getting, but the giving. Just the name was gift enough. A ten-letter French-origin name is not easy for a seven year old to spell correctly. I don’t know if my mother remembers that moment, or if it made visions of sugar plums dance in her head.
That was the year I also realized that stories are ours to change; ours to share.
(Oh, how I love to tell a story)!
It’s an adult’s chance to remember what it is like to frollick just for the sake of it. I revel in how adults decorate, play dress up, and work together to engulf themselves in the spirit of the holiday season for weeks!
Stories are people; us.
It’s an adaptation we share with all humans — even with the first people who painted caves. They wanted to preserve their story. We share the love of a good tale with every person. And we tell them often whether we realize it or not. Every time we play Santa or the Tooth Fairy, it is the same as when we share anecdotes about our ancestors or crazy Aunt Gigi. We pass on memories. The compulsion is so strong that if there is a tradition we don’t like, we change it just so that we can pass on the good bits.
The bits that hold us together.
I bristle when some people insist that Santa is a lie.
Santa is no more a lie than Green Eggs and Ham.
It’s a story.
A story only becomes a lie when we use it to trick and control other people. It’s a lie when we turn playfulness into deception. It’s a lie when use it to hurt and punish. It is a sobering thing when you learn that ordinary people are just as capable of immense generosity as they are of emotional manipulation.
When I play Santa, I don’t keep lists and check them twice. No coal here. Sometimes the naughty need a stocking filled more than the nice.
My story; my narrative.
Our shelf elf Jingle doesn’t keep stupid tabs on our coming and goings. He plays Where’s Waldo elf style. A few times I woke up delighted to find that he moved without my input, and I had to ask Mr. Claus just where that slippery elf was hiding.
My oldest, my daughter, is seven.
I don’t know exactly how I’m going to emotionally handle the revelation when it happens.
But, when she asks these days, “Is Santa real?”
I say, “What do you think?”
Because one day, in that moment, her light will turn on and it will become her story to tell.
And, I can’t wait to read it.
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