One of my favorite children's Christmas specials is The Grinch. Why, you ask? Because I love how in the end the Whos down in Whoville all come together and sing "Welcome Christmas" even though the mean, nasty Grinch took all of their decorations, toys and celebratory food. Remember?
Who young and old create the circle of life and they lift their voices high to express joy in the coming of that new day, in spite of the lack of gifts and adornments. You see, they understand the "gift" IS presence. To me the end of this holiday special relays to us Christmas not about Santa, or even about the birth of baby Jesus...Christmas is a feeling. A feeling of connection to others, of counting our blessings and our struggles, of taking pause for one day to be with our loved ones. It is not about who will be getting the latest electronic gadget under the tree. And watching The Grinch each year reminds me of one night, many years ago, when my oldest son found out there was no Santa and what a profound effect it had on my holiday perspective.
It was 1997, Nick was 10 years old. I was tucking him into bed for the night when he asked, "Mom, is Santa real?" [In the back of my mind I knew his days of believing were numbered and so I was kind of prepared to tackle this when it came up. Of course he had asked on and off when he was little and I had always reassured him that Santa was indeed real. But this was the moment when I knew in my heart he really needed to hear my honest and true answer]. I asked him why he was questioning, he said his friend Brad (who was 12) told him parents buy the presents and put them under the tree on Christmas Eve, that Santa does not exist.
I will admit, I was momentarily upset with Brad, but decided if it wasn't him it would have been someone else so there was no reason to get bent out of shape about what he had shared with Nick. I responded gently, "Nick, Brad is right. There is no Santa, it is Tom and I who put the presents under the tree once you are asleep." The waterworks turned on, which made me immediately question what I had said. As I rubbed his back, I began to ponder the psychological damage I had caused in that instant.
As he lay in bed, I continued to rub his back (after getting him a tissue). The room was dark and quiet. My mind was trying to figure out a way to recover from what had just transpired when Nick asks, "Mom, is the Easter Bunny real?"
Oh sh#%, now I've opened a can of worms!
"Um, no. Mom and Tom hide the baskets each year Nick." More tears. More back rubbing. More of me looking up at the ceiling trying to bring this whole scene back around to something less than devastating. He asks about the tooth fairy as well. And just when I think we have got it all out in the open, Nick has one more question for me...
"Is God real?"
And that, friends, is when I lost it. All I could think was how I had just totally rocked my child's world to a point where he was questioning the existence of his maker. Obviously I quickly reassured him that God absolutely existed. Even though you cannot see Him like you see other people. He is always with you, He oversees all that happens in life, and He loves you. And me. Even when I am having a moment where I feel as if I am the world's worst parent.
That little boy is now twenty-five, and he will be part of the circle of our table on Christmas Day, and although he's certainly endured some of life's punches, I don't think anything I said or did that night caused his soul to scar.
Christmas is a special season, even though it appears to be getting longer each year. How we decide to use the time makes a difference to our children. I hope your family will keep the real meaning of the holiday above that of all the commercialism which exists today. It's a challenge, but it can be done.
Maybe you have enough money to buy a room full of blue Furby's, maybe you don't. Doesn't matter. Your children need your honest, sincere presence much, much more than they need your presents. Help them to move beyond the ribbons and bows this holiday.
My new favorite Christmas song: