The man, the myth and the magic

Spoiler alert: Let’s keep the youngsters away from this one. I’m going to talk candidly about Mr. Claus, his clan and their annual expedition.


This is my first Christmas. My first holiday season with a little one of my own. My daughter is just 10 months old and she’s starting to talk, but not walk. Starting to love life, but not able to understand it.

As Thanksgiving approached this year and Christmas tunes and décor crept out from every crevice, I started to contemplate the details of my own holiday celebration.

What traditions matter to my family? Which ones would my husband and I pass down to our daughter? Which ones did I enjoy as a child and, for that matter, which ones do I even remember?

Advent calendars. Real trees. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Watching my favorite dentist save the day in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” And, of course, the big man himself – Santa Claus.

My daughter was about to embark on her first foray into the magical world of Santa and his eight tiny reindeer (nine if you include old Rudolph.)

As a child, I wanted so badly to catch him in the act. I remember staring out the window for hours hoping to get just a glimpse of that sleigh or camping out on Christmas Eve and trying, unsuccessfully, to wait up for him.

That’s when it hit me. I would spend the next few years convincing my daughter that somewhere in the frozen ocean of the North Pole lives an old man, his countless elven assistants and flying reindeer, one of whom sports a neon red nose. Then, only after she is thoroughly convinced, will I reveal that it was all a big, fat lie.

My husband said by the time you learn it’s all a lie, you’ve changed. It’s not about deceit on the part of parents. Instead, it’s a secret that only big kids get to share. Christmas is still full of magic – plus you get the presents.

I remember the moment I learned the big secret. It’s strange, but I remember every detail of that day. The memories aren’t sad or depressing, just very distinctive.

I was sitting at the lunch table in third grade with my friend, Lisa. In order to protect the innocent I won’t use her last name, but I remember her last name.

Our elementary school lunchroom was a huge open assembly room with high ceilings. Three rows of long, rectangle tables filled the open floor space every day at noon. As third-graders, we were in the middle row.

I was sitting at the end of the table and Lisa sat to my left. The conversation began, innocently enough, by sharing what we all wanted for Christmas.

Then somewhere between a bite of my rectangle-shaped pizza slice and a sip of milk, Lisa told us Santa Claus didn’t exist. “It’s your parents,” she said. “Didn’t you know that?”

She said it so matter-of-factly, like everyone knew. It was common knowledge. But, it wasn’t to me. Suddenly, an emptiness filled my gut. I felt duped, like a fool. I think I even briefly went through the five stages of grief.

On the bright side, it turned out nobody really knew if I was being naughty or nice. But, for that moment, the magic was gone.

That night when I confronted my parents with this new truth, they tried to deny to it. Perhaps going through their own five stages. Eventually, though, they caved and let me in on the big secret.

With that kind of indelible memory, you’d think I might be second guessing my decision to perpetuate the great lie. But I’m not. Not at all.

I have every intention of telling my daughter about the man who magically sneaks into the house in the middle of the night and leaves your greatest desire under the tree. Well, when you put it like that …

The truth is, it really is magical to think that a stranger just might hook you up with whatever you need or want for Christmas. A dollhouse. A new ski jacket. A bike. A Big Wheel (remember those?)

Maybe these days, it would be more accurate to say a cellphone or an iPad. Either way, for no real reason, that jolly old elf just wants to give. OK, there might be that whole naughty and nice thing but, let’s be honest, that’s just a parental attempt at behavior modification.

Christmas is about giving without getting. It’s about taking care of others. It’s about one stranger helping out another. That’s the magic I want to teach my daughter.

For this first holiday season, she’ll simply be focused on the pretty lights and the people. Santa’s just another bright, colorful picture looming large in her pile of books.

I can’t say for sure when she’ll begin to understand. When she’ll begin to believe the lie. Or, better yet, when she’ll begin to believe in magic. But I’m more than happy to tell her all about it.

Tracy Chamberlin

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