My youngest nephew is asking some hard-hitting questions about Santa. At 9 years old, he’s grappling with Santa’s admittedly difficult nighttime journey on Christmas Eve, geographically-speaking. And, magic aside, he’s probably also wondering how Santa’s ample frame shimmies down chimneys so easily. He’s on the precipice of closing one of the doors of childhood.
I can’t remember how old I was when Dad took me aside, clued me in, and made sure I understood how important it was to keep the magic alive for my younger sister, but I was around my nephew’s age. From that point forward, I can recall surreptitiously watching my parents set up my sister’s Cabbage Patch Dolls late one Christmas Eve; waiting to hear the tell-tale whoomp of a car trunk closing, announcing in a muted night air that Santa’s gifts were being retrieved; and slyly searching throughout my parents and grandmother’s homes to discover the cache of gifts slated for Santa.
I knew the secret, but, rather than destroying some holiday enchantment, for me the big reveal opened up a whole other world of mystery and intrigue, far more real and entertaining than the jolly old elf. The cloak and dagger of hidden gifts, subterfuge, and late night shenanigans combined for an intoxicating brew. Waiting for a magical being to fly down from the North Pole to (maybe) deliver your heart’s desire is excruciating in its randomness. Realizing you are part of an elaborate game, passed down for decades, touching on our moral, emotional, economic, and familial bonds, well, that’s thrilling.
Santa is magical and wonderful, but what is far more magical and wonderful is a family wedded to the pageantry of it all. The Christmas tree(s), the decorations, the lights, the holiday dishes, the family meals, the cards, and the carols. None of it is complicated, but it can only be pulled off by those that care enough to make it happen (and are lucky enough to be able to make it happen). I was lucky enough to have two parents that made it happen, whether I was waiting up for Santa or just the gifts to be there.
I know full well that this will be the last Christmas I have a nephew believing in the physical Santa, but that reality does not bother me. This time next year, he will be a full-fledged participant in the holiday ruse. And my Christmas wish for him will be that he and his brother revel in it as much as I did. That’s the sort of holiday magic that never fades away, locked behind the closed doors of childhood.