Yes, that's me, the Grinch

Don't get me wrong. I love Christmas - all of it: The deeply Christian holiday with four weeks of advent and the lighting of candles, the joyous celebration of the birth of Christ with the remembrance that God fulfills all his promises in his time. Also love the stuff that has next to nothing to do with Christ, but has become part of the cultural holiday - the sounds, the colors, the flavors, the TV specials, and of course Santa.

All the other stuff, I am certain, I'll enjoy until the day I die - except after December 30th: by then I've usually had my fill - but Santa is special in our house, primarily because we have young children. There's something magical about Christmas for me, even as an adult, that has always made it special. The idea of Santa Claus is a way to communicate this sense of wonder and magic to children who aren't ready or able to perceive it in the same manner that we do. And there's something about our children's belief in Santa that says they're still innocent, still childlike.

So it was quite a disappointment to us when our oldest discovered the "truth" about the jolly red elf last year while reading a Judy Blume book - sorry, I don't remember which one - and quickly decided to enlighten her brother. OS looks up to his sister a great deal, but with some effort we managed to save Santa for him for another year.

So how did I almost steal some of that magic? Fast forward to last Monday: My wife asked me to pick up a Christmas present for our youngest - from Santa, of course - before picking up our oldest from a book club. She had also asked OS if he wanted to go along for the ride. Neither of us considered this foolish at the time. So we went to the store, and I told him we were going to help Mommy out by doing some Christmas shopping. I believe I might have also mentioned that it was for his brother. When we found the gift, he asked me, "Dad, isn't this the kind of gift Santa would bring?" The best I could come up with at this point was that Santa gets really busy at this time of year and sometimes he needs a little help. The boy is a very inquisitive kid, and he's reached an age where he's bound to start asking questions like that, but I thought I'd handled it pretty well.

When we got home with OD and I put the two of them in bed, I came downstairs to relate the experience to my wife (who had realized her strategic error in sending the boy along with me). As she pointed out, he was bound to talk about this experience tomorrow - the kid remembers trivial things like who ate what for breakfast last Thursday - and the more he talked, the more he'd dwell on it, until he came to a conclusion we weren't prepared to hear. This was something that needed to be nipped in the bud. Within minutes, she'd called her friend down the street and arranged to have OS walk the gift down himself the next morning. "No, son, your silly dad got confused. It wasn't for your brother, it was some shopping I was supposed to do for your buddy's mom, for her nephew. And Santa does his own shopping, dear."

I don't know if you'd buy that story if it was told to you, but we went to see Santa today. Had a caroling/storytime event at the local park. We were sitting in the shelter house, gathered around the glowing embers in the fireplace, and Santa walked in during the last song. What were the responses of our children? The oldest asked if she had to sit on his lap, but she was persuaded. OS had his wish list memorized, and couldn't wait to rattle it off. (He practiced in the car on the way there.) YS is only two, and mostly wanted the candy canes being handed out. And YD - the four-year-old - asked why he didn't come down the chimney. She's the one I'd want to ask that question.

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