Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Keeping the Magic Alive

December 22, 2009

It's been brewing now for a couple of years--a little suspicion whispering at the back of his brain--but until this year, he pushed those doubts aside and kept the faith. This year, finally, Nicholas needed to know for sure....

"Mom, I sure hope Santa brings something good this year. Last year the Star Wars Lego set was so cool."

"Well, Nicholas, probably even Santa will have to scale back a little this year. Times are tough for everyone."

"Yeah." A quiet thoughtful pause, and then, "Mom? You know what some of the boys in my journalism class were saying? They were saying that Santa's not even real." Testing, slyly searching.

Nicholas, remember, is thirteen, and in junior high. He's bigger than I am, but still very much a little boy in a lot of ways. Still, I'm amazed he's kept the faith this long. But it's time, I realize. Junior high boys can be cruel when they sense a weakness. I've seen it; it's not pretty. A major mom test: how to let him down easily, without crushing his childhood memories, without feeling like he's been lied to his whole life. Brianna was a little easier when it came to this sort of thing; Nicholas tends to live in a little more of a black-and-white sort of world. (And yes, I realize that if you have a thirteen-year-old, or have had a thirteen-year-old, you might be saying, "What's the big deal? He's too old for that sort of thing. Get over it!" I know. But if you knew Nicholas, you'd know why it was a big deal.)

So I said to him, "Well, Nicholas, here's the thing about Santa Claus: I still believe in Santa Claus, but really, Santa is not so much a guy who wears a red suit and comes down your chimney. Santa is the spirit of giving, sharing magic with all the little kids who still believe he's a guy in the sleigh." Nicholas nodded slightly. "It's kind of a big deal, though. Once you get old enough to realize that Santa is the spirit of giving, you get to be in on the magic. You get to be one of the ones who helps bring the magic to others." I looked at him to see what he thought. I'm big on Christmas spirit, and I didn't want his dashed. "Does that make sense to you?"

"Yes, it does," he nodded.

"One of the reasons it's a big deal is because it's your responsibility to not steal that magic and joy away from little kids who still believe that Santa comes down their chimney at night. You've got cousins, for example, who still believe. It's your job to let them keep believing until they and their parents decide they're old enough to help bring the magic to others. It's actually pretty cool, because when you are old enough and mature enough to know how it really works, you get to help, and it's really exciting when someone pulls something out of their stocking that you secretly helped to pick out for them." He smiled. "So what do you think? Can you handle the responsibility? It would be really mean to spoil someone else's magic for them. Are you mature enough?"

"Yes, definitely," he said sincerely, clearly taking it to heart. Then his brow furrowed just a bit, and his quizzical expression told me he wasn't quite done.

"Are you wondering about something?"

"Well, I was just wondering if Sister knows."

"Honestly, I'm not sure. Since we don't know for sure, we're just going to assume that she still believes in Santa and his reindeer, so whatever you do, you can't spoil it for her. She's eleven, and some eleven-year-olds have started to ask questions, but Danielle really hasn't yet."

"Oh," he said. "Actually, it was Brianna I was wondering about." (Bree, my sixteen-year-old! I tried to hide my smile)

"I see. Actually, Bree has been in on the magic for a couple of years now...."

Cut to a few days later, when his new-found responsibility would be put to the test.

Doug took Nicholas and Danielle out to shop for a Christmas present for me. While they were out, Danielle was talking about the present she got last year from Santa. "I really wanted it," she said, "and Santa brought it to me. Or maybe," she said shyly, "Santa just told you guys I wanted it and you're the ones who really gave it to me."

"No," Nicholas piped in earnestly, according to my husband. "I really think it was Santa who brought it to you and brought my Lego set to me."

No smirk, no sense of irony. Keeping the magic alive. He's now officially in the club.


  1. From Jim Bizieff:


    I loved your story! It reminded me of my own son's questions back when he was about 8 or 9 (he is now 21). My youngest brother Tom has always been a little kid at heart and has always been the driving force behind the holiday spirit. That year, my son Matthew was questioning his Santa beliefs because kids at school were telling him that Santa did not exist. I told Tom and he devised an ingenious plan; he would come over dressed as Santa on Christmas Eve and let Matthew see him "dropping off" presents.

    Tom made sure to do the job well. He had arranged earlier to pick up some gifts and put them in a red bag. He purchased a genuine Santa outfit and was dressed and ready. We sent the kids to bed about 11:00 PM (wishful thinking), but like kids do, they refused to go to sleep. I could hear them talking and giggling until at least 2:00 AM.

    About 2:30 AM, Tom phoned me and said he was ready (I had given him a key to the house). He had a friend come with him - the friend waited outside. Tom stood near the bottom of our inside staircase (we had a two-story house) and had his friend throw a basketball on the roof where my son's room is.

    A few seconds later Matthew came running into my room and asked if I heard the sound. I dismissed it, telling him it was in his imagination. "No" - he assurred me it was real. This had woken up his younger brother as well. Now both were in my room, wide eyed, and full of all of that youthfull energy. I told them to go check. I listened as they quietly (they thought) stomped down the stairs. I heard them as they were peeking around the corner and whispering (Tom tells me they looked right at him and that is when he started unloading presents under the tree).

    Fearing Santa had seen them (and would not leave any presents as I had threatened them with so many past years to get them to go to sleep) they beat feet up the stairs and into their beds. Tom left and called me to tell me the coast was clear.

    I was going to go back to sleep, but their mother said that would be too cruel. We could hear them whispering to each other for several minutes.

    Finally, I succumbed and yelled for them to come to my room. I asked them what they had seen and listened as they went into great detail. My youngest (Andrew - 4 or so at the time) swore that he heard the reindeer leave the roof.

    That year I was forced to open presents at 3:00 AM, but it was well worth it. Matthew kept up the faith for another couple of years and then made sure to play along so Andrew would continue with his faith.

    I will never forget the looks on their faces and the excitement in their voices as they told me what they had seen. As you might imagine, the next year was almost as special as they swore they again heard reindeer when Santa came.

    My brother Tom looks back on that night as one of his greatest accomplishments. Matthew and Andrew both remember it vividly to this day. Every year when we talk they ask me if I remember when Uncle Tom came to the house dressed as Santa. I know that one day they will continue the moment and keep the magic by pulling a similar stunt for their children.

    Merry Christmas!

  2. Donna,
    This blog made me cry. The way you explained it to Nicholas is so perfect, and how wonderful it must be to have such a sweet son who doesn't want to ruin the fun for his little sister. You are one blessed Mama!!!