(originally posted in November 2016)
As we wobble toward the gobble this week, many folks are donning their holiday commando gear for Black Friday merriment, rolling out the holly to deck the halls and getting ready to rock around the Christmas tree. Many families will be getting their game faces on for that special question that always seems to pop up this time of year…“How does Santa fly around the world in one night?”
I got away with my standard “time travel” answer for years (thank you, Doctor Who) until one December afternoon when my son gave me the “I’m not buying what you’re selling” stare. I caved. This was his reply to my admission that was about to turn his life upside down…
“My whole childhood has been a lie?”
That was followed up by big, blue sad eyes that quickly turned to a glare. He then promptly did the roll call on all holiday creatures including the tooth fairy. “Yep, all lies,” I said. He was not amused.
I offered a trip to McDonalds in my desperate attempt to cheer him up. “French fries aren’t going to bring back my childhood,” he mumbled. OUCH.
Ahhh, the BIG REVEAL. Whether it comes from siblings, classmates or just from their own detective work, the Big Reveal is one of the bits of childhood that is bittersweet. When my daughter Catherine was age nine, she was still happily believing in all the magic of Santa and his elves. She would write letters nightly to The Claus Collective and place them in our Christmas Mail Box where they would magically be delivered to the North Pole. Every morning, she would check her mail box to find treasures like letters from Santa & Mrs. Claus, candy canes, ornaments and such. Christmas elves at work and wonderment!
However, as her ninth Christmas approached, my husband and I grew concerned that Santa’s identity was going to be uncovered while Catherine was at school. She had already questioned the multiple number of Santas she would see on any given Saturday while running errands with me. I knew from other parents that this topic was being explored at recess too. The time had come to take the sleigh into our own hands and deliver the Big Reveal ourselves. I wasn’t about to face round two of sad eyes and accusations of a childhood destroyed by lies. (not to worry, no childhoods were actually harmed during Reveal #1…we fixed that with French Fries, remember?) Nope, this time I had a plan.
Mr. and Mrs. Claus crafted a letter inviting Catherine to meet her mom and dad on December 6 to celebrate St. Nicholas Day. Words like hot cocoa and cookies were thrown in to sweeten the invite. It worked! On the afternoon of Dec 6, Catherine promptly arrived for our St. Nicholas Day celebration. We curled up with the promised cookies and cocoa. Then, we took a deep breath and got on with the business of the Big Reveal. (Or possibly the ruination our daughter’s childhood which is why our “sleigh” was on standby for a trip to the Land of French Fries.)
We began by sharing with Catherine that we were so proud of the young lady she had become. We explained that because she was turning 10 soon, it was time to share a very special Christmas secret with her. Her eyes opened wide and she leaned forward in great anticipation. Her daddy handed her our Santa key that we always hung on our front door during the holidays. He said this was a very special key that was used for more than welcoming Santa in to deliver gifts. It was really a key that belonged to a secret club called The Society of Keepers of Christmas Magic. By accepting this key, she was being invited to become a Christmas Keeper. She looked intently at us and held the key close to her heart. We told her that it was time for her to know the truth about Santa and Mrs. Claus. Now she looked a little worried, but gave it the old college try to stay with us while we continued.
We shared the story of St. Nicholas and his generosity. We explained that he was also a toymaker and wanted all children to have a special gift for Christmas to let them know they are loved. We told her that the real St. Nicholas (aka Santa) had gone to heaven long ago, but his spirit lived on in the families around the world who continued his good works in giving and sharing with others. In some places, families did this by secretly putting gifts under the tree for their children.
Catherine scooted closer to her daddy and gave me the “look.” The truth was dawning on her that she was sitting with Santa and Mrs. Claus aka Imposters aka Childhood Magic Wreckers. UH OH. It seemed that we were about to jump in our sleigh for a trip to French Fry town at any moment. She remained silent, clutching the key. My husband began to giggle nervously. I had visions of Catherine as an adult telling everyone how we “wrecked the halls” of her childhood with this horrible truth and tried to make it better with French Fries. We decided it was time to break out the shiny, sparkly things.
We handed her a tiny silver box that contained a special snowflake necklace and a silver sleigh charm for her charm bracelet. We included a special key ornament. These were her Christmas Keeper treasures. She was delighted! We also gave her a journal where she could jot down ideas for creating Christmas magic going forward. We made sure she understood the importance of keeping the “secret” so that little ones could enjoy the magical fun of the Christmas season. She was beyond thrilled and totally onboard with this whole plan. (whew! and hooray for sparkly treasures!)
We wrapped up our presentation by gifting her with two books, “The Life and Adventures of Santa Clause” by L. Frank Baum (yep, creator of the “Wizard of Oz” series) and “The Legend of Holly Claus” by Brittany Ryan. We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon by watching the animated film “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” based on the true story of an editorial written in The Sun newspaper in 1897. We then decided to bake some more Christmas cookies and watch White Christmas (a family favorite and annual tradition.) Overall, a very successful afternoon and I’m happy to report that no French Fries were needed. My husband and I were relieved and pleased that it went so well! We would find out very soon just how important and meaningful this afternoon would become in our family history.
The next few weeks were spent with Catherine enjoying her role as a Christmas Keeper. She was so excited to stay up to help me put gifts under the tree after everyone had gone to bed on Christmas Eve. Even though she had come down with a bad virus and was feeling poorly, she was determined to honor her duties as a member of The Society of Keepers of Christmas Magic. Christmas Day was magnificent! We spent most of that day curled up on our bed (all of us together) watching Christmas movies as a family, playing games and just being together. In just two days, our lives would be forever changed, but for that day, we all just gathered together in the spirit and love of Christmas.
On December 27, 2012, my husband passed away from complications due to terminal illness. He was 44 years old. Christmas Day was the last day we spent together as a family as he was hospitalized early on December 26 for internal bleeding and pneumonia due to his illness.
As you might imagine, while Christmas is a time filled with many loving memories, it can still feel a bit raw for us as well. Catherine has told me so many times how grateful she is that her daddy and I shared the “Santa Secret” with her that day. She will treasure those memories forever. She is now nearly 14 years old. Each year, she searches the shops for the perfect holiday journal to continue her duties as a Christmas Keeper. Sometimes, I will walk by our North Pole mailbox to find the flag up to alert the “elves” that mail is ready for delivery to Mrs. Claus. Most of the time, it’s Cat’s way of helping me with gift ideas, recipes to bake, crafts to create, etc. Last Christmas (2015), however, I found a letter to Santa from Cat sharing that if she could have only one Christmas wish come true, it would be to hug her daddy one last time. I wish more than anything in my life that I could make that come true for her. While my heart hurt so deeply in that moment, I felt soothed by the fact that she felt safe enough to share her feelings about her grief in that way. She also wore her daddy’s favorite shirt last Christmas morning. It was the shirt he was wearing when we welcomed Catherine into The Society of Keepers of Christmas Magic. She has found another tradition to keep her daddy close on Christmas morning. (insert warm fuzzies here, please and thanks ❤ )
I am so grateful that we created so many holiday traditions over the years in our family. They are what help us find the light on those days when grief comes to call. So many times we rush through the holidays and often forget how meaningful these traditions are to our family. I’m learning to slow things down and really just be in the season.
May you all find great comfort and joy in your own holiday traditions this year. May your days be merry and bright! And if you find that you are needing to take on the Big Reveal at your house, I suggest hot cocoa, candy canes and cookies….and French Fries, in case your kids decide you should go on the Naughty List. Wishing you all the happiest of holidays! Merry Christmas to all and to all Good Light!