Surprisingly, it was my mother who taught me about the magic of Christmas. I say "surprisingly" because by all other accounts, Mom had a hard exterior. She had a moral compass made of steel, and most of the time she held me to a standard I was never quite sure I could achieve. (Case in point: A 30 minute discussion about why I got one A minus on my report card, when the rest of the grades were all A's. Sheesh.)
But Christmas brought out a different side of Mom. Christmas is where the love, the abundance, the excessiveness, and even the embrace of straight up reckless consumerism came flowing out of mom. She made sure that every detail was attended to and her Christmas spirit, even to this day, has left us steeped in traditions. The weeks leading up to Christmas were filled with finding our own special live tree and decorating it with handmade ornaments, baking of cookies, making of candies, meticulous wrapping of gifts complete with homemade ornate bows, and parties large and small - lots and lots of parties.
In our house, Santa was kind of a big deal. Oh sure, there were the usual transparent parenting techniques of dangling Santa's watchful eye over me to entice me to behave - which of course achieved only mixed results. But the bottom line was that Santa was about magic. I was a logical child, and I knew that this whole Santa business didn't make sense. How could he make his way around the entire world in just one night? How could he know this year we were going to be at Grandma's and not in our own home? How could he really get a sleigh to fly? How could he possibly have snuck into the house while everyone except Mom was at church, put the presents under the tree, and Mom didn't even see him? This guy was good, I thought. In spite of my suspicions, I knew in this family I was required to believe. So I did.
But all of that came to a screeching halt when I was 9 years old. I remember it distinctly, because I think it might be the first time my heart was ever broken. A couple of weeks prior to Christmas, you see, my dad had misplaced a shoe. He commissioned me to help him find it, and I searched that old farmhouse high and low on his behalf. This led to me looking under his and Mom's bed, and I was quickly shooed away by Mom. But it was too late - I had already seen the big, shiny, silver saucer sled underneath it. Knowing the rules, I kept my mouth shut. But imagine my surprise - or rather, my dismay - when on Christmas morning that very sled was under the tree and in big letters it read: "To Jenny, From Santa."
WHAT????!!! I remember staring at it in utter surprise. I am certain to this day that Mom knew precisely what she was doing. I know this, because as I looked back at her in disbelief, there was a twinkle in her eye. Sure, there had been nine years of lies and ruthless deceit. But this act was a nod that I was growing up, and it was time I got in on the secret. It was time, because six months later we would be welcoming baby Jessica into our home, ending my days as an only child, and requiring us to all work together to pass the magic of Santa onto someone else.
Christmas now is very different from those innocent days in that old farmhouse on a hill. But one thing remains: everything about it is magical. The joy of finding and giving the perfect gift, the laughter of sweet reminiscence, the sharing of great meals and the straight up comfort of togetherness. That's what this Santa business is all about, and that is why a little part of all of me will always believe.
Merry Christmas, everyone...and may today have some Santa magic in it for you.