By: Heather O’Neill
My 10-year-old son was in 5th grade, and still carried the magic of Christmas with him. I knew that his friends were questioning. There seemed to be lots of chatter during 4th grade—the last year of elementary school. He had so many questions and wanted factual responses from me. He was adamant about finding answers.
- How did Santa get in? We didn’t have a functioning chimney.
- How does Santa do it all in one night? He would show me a map of the world.
- How does the sleigh land on our roof? There were no flat spots.
- Why do we have so many boxes from Amazon? Um, how is this different than any other time of year?
I didn’t want the magic to leave my son in an abrupt and hurtful way. I had heard horror stories of kids finding out from other people and remembered painfully how devastated and betrayed I felt. I did not want this for him.
When he started questioning in front of my younger 7-year old son and his younger cousins, trying to get them to see how it would be impossible for one person to complete this feat in one night, I knew it was time.
I asked him if he wanted to go out with me to the mall to one of his favorite places, the Cheesecake Factory. He always said he felt “grown-up” there. We sat down, just the 2 of us, and ordered his favorite strawberry lemonade and appetizers. Our plan was appetizers and dessert……and then (little did he know) I would crush his hopes and dreams…..
I had researched this for a while as I did not want to destroy his love of Christmas.
I asked him what he thought the true meaning of Christmas was. So corny, I know, but I was hoping to get him into a thoughtful mindset.
He answered, “Being surrounded by love and family.”
I’m not sure if this is what he thought I wanted to hear, or if it was his first answer – but it made my heart swell and I continued….
Me: “You’re getting older now and I think it’s time that you became a Santa.”
Him: “A what?”
Me: “A Santa. Someone who does something for other people, but does not get recognized for it.”
Him: “What do you mean?”
Me: (I’m starting to sense his panic) “You know how you’ve been questioning about how Santa does it all—the flying, the presents, the cookies—all in one night?”
Me: “Well, you’re right. It’s not one person, it’s a whole club of people who are Santas. They create and keep the magic of Christmas for children all over the world.”
Him: (slightly crushed) “So it’s you and dad that leave us presents?”
Me: “Technically, we buy and wrap them, but it’s the magic of Santa that makes it special. It’s a special club where parents keep the magic going for their kids on Christmas morning. Meme and Grandpa did it for me and Nana and Papa did it for Dad. Their parents did it for them before that.”
Him: “So you buy the presents?”
Me: “It’s not just about buying presents – but giving gifts and not receiving recognition in return. No one says “Thank you Mom and Dad” It’s magic for us as parents to see such joy on your faces. And people have been keeping this magic alive for hundreds and hundreds of years.
He pretended to get it, but I knew he wasn’t fully buying this yet. I told him we were going to create a Santa moment for someone.
We finished our desserts and went to the Disney Store. We scouted the store for someone who we thought could use some extra cheer this season. He settled on a mom who was buying a few things. We went to the register and purchased a $25 gift card and asked the cashier to give it to the woman, but not tell her where it came from. We stood over to the side and secretly spied on the register.
Cashier: “We had a Secret Santa in the store today and they wanted you to have this gift card.”
Woman: (eyes tearing up) “Wow. This is amazing. I could really use this right now, especially at Christmas.”
Cashier: (also tearing up) “Merry Christmas”
The woman completed her purchase, with the assistance of the newfound gift card and left the store, smiling.
As we watched her go, I asked him how it felt. He said it was nice to help out someone. We discussed again that being a Santa means helping people and not getting recognition. It would have been a different interaction with the woman if the cashier pointed to us and said: “They wanted you to have this gift card.”
He agreed and replied, “That would have been weird.”
I could see his wheels turning. He always loved getting praise for doing something good. This, I could tell, was more than that for him.
We continued on our way home and discussed how now that he was part of this club, he had to keep the magic going. He was not allowed to spoil the magic for his younger brother, cousins or any friends at school. Maybe they weren’t ready to become Santas yet. We discussed who he could have the Santa conversation. For now, just me and his dad.
I’m proud of the way my son carried himself through this conversation and our journey to create a Santa moment for someone. It seems as though all at once my baby boy had grown up.
And then, as he was headed to bed that night, he rushed over to where I was sitting and said:
Him: “Wait, I’m starting to have second thoughts about the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.”
Me: (smiling) “It’s all part of the magic.”