On Santa Subterfuge

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.

On Expensive Hover Boards

My nephew got on the phone to talk to me several weeks ago. He had a very special message he needed to deliver. You see, he had decided what he wanted for Christmas, and he knew I would be just the person to get it for him. He wants a hover board.  Maybe you’ve seen these hot new toys/gadgets. Part electric scooter, part skateboard, all the cool kids zoom around on them now. Inside, outside, it doesn’t matter. They are the “in” thing this year.

I admit they look pretty fun. Practical? Of course not, but practicality does not enter into a nine-year-old’s wish list calculations. I like to make my nephews happy, and so I listened to his wish attentively. At the time, I had no idea he’d call me the following week to remind me how much he wants one. Or the week after that.

With my holiday mission so clearly set forth before me, I launched out to find one of these hover boards. Turns out, they’re not hard to find, they’re just hard to purchase. As in, they are very expensive. Most are way too expensive for a 4th grader Christmas gift, and, as much as I want to see a smile as the family gathers on Christmas Eve, I can’t justify spending that much money. I’ll find something that’s great (and affordable), but it will sting a little not to get him what his heart desires.

Part of my angst is, no doubt, coming from a place of wanting to make my nephew happy, but I also think there’s part of me longing for the days when a gift under the tree can elicit yelps of joy, claps of happiness, and excited jumps, twists, and turns. I can still recall, vividly, my 4th grade excitement when Santa delivered all of the Transformer Dinobots. Not one Dinobot. Not two, three, or four, but all five. I had them all! I’m fairly certain that, should my life ever flash before my eyes, one of the images will be those Dinobots. Three decades later, I still have them all, minus a few well-earned scrapes and scratches.

We grow up, mature (a little), accept some responsibility, pass the torch of holiday excitement to a younger generation, and learn to appreciate gifts not made of plastic. But, if we’re honest, we never recapture the pure magic of it all. The unbounded joy, the possibility, the mystery, the anticipation. Sure, we gain a deeper appreciation of the traditions and the togetherness, we reflect on our blessings, and we contemplate joy, but it lacks the lightning bolt intensity of seeing two rows of Star Wars action figures surrounding the Millennium Falcon. And I’ll fight any man that argues otherwise.

I know the upcoming holidays will be meaningful for me. I’ll return home for the first time in a year, see old friends, and spend time with my family. It will be fantastic and full of warmth, peace, and meaning. It will be a deeper experience. And I’m great with that. But I hope, in some way, I get to witness my nephews revel in those moments of pure excitement. They’re getting older, and I know it won’t be long before those days are over. They’ll end, but, if they’re lucky like I was, the memories will last a lifetime.