Christmas Eve is upon us. Are you ready? Do you have all your wrapping done and the cooking well on it's way to being scrumptious? Or am I asking too many questions on top of all the other things you have to tend to today? OK, I'll stop. I'll tell you a story and answer the age old question- Is there really a Santa Claus?
The van was packed with gifts for children and with children bearing gifts...for strangers. The stranger's wishes had been plucked from the branches of an angel tree- my friend Kathy and I were heading up the Social Ministries gig at the local Lutheran Church, and had installed the tree in the church lobby with many names of local children who needed a Santa. Most of the tags had been picked, and shopped for and underneath the tree- were the gifts wrapped ready for the faceless names on the cards. Kath and I- belonging to the school of Charlie Brown mentalities...picked up the rest of the tags that had not been favored. Perhaps because of the unpronounceable names or the age of the child or the gift wanted...for unknown reasons, these children would remain gift less if we didn't act accordingly. We shopped till we almost dropped as the final gift tag wish was fulfilled.
We wrapped all the final gifts, loading our modes of transportation to the brink with packages and our own oldest children.
I remember feeling good, though tired- about the whole operation. We didn't necessarily have the money to go around to cover excess presents- but still somehow, all was covered. On the way to the agency that would receive the gifts and dole them out accordingly- my oldest son seemed especially quiet. (For he was not a quiet child, he was often quite chatty- his thoughts often declared out loud.) We had Christmas music on the radio, me feeling good- singing loudly, following Kathy's tail gate. When out of the blue, the question of all questions was uttered...
"Mom, why did we have to buy all these gifts? I thought Santa looked after everyone. Why doesn't Santa bring gifts to these children? Don't they have chimneys? I thought you said that Santa finds everyone somehow..."
In all the hub bub, in all the haste and happiness- I didn't think about how this might affect the oldest thinker of the brood. In my heart I heard "this is wonderful, the right thing to do. How happy these children will be..." When the questions arose, it drove home the fact that my son was still a child, an innocent full of wonder and magical thinking. And I had encouraged these beliefs- from leaving Santa's red mitten near the cookies and milk site to actually making deer tracks in the snow and shaking loudly, bells out under the midnight moon on Christmas Eve.
Those questions needed a miracle answer, not a magical one. The opportunity was at hand to teach, (as I had thought I had done by example...but again, the child was but a child- compassion in a whirl of activity did not present the lesson I hoped it would) at the stop light, I thought too about who this Santa chap really was.
I looked at my child, really looked at that face looking upon me in trust. A Christmas story at that moment, and moments to come...would not do.
I pulled the van over at the next opportunity, Kathy's tail gate faded into the traffic line ahead of me. I cleared my throat, I stammered a bit. My heart and my head were fighting a duel and the bright face in the passenger seat confronted me with a judge's query of interrogation I could not ignore. I felt I was on the witness stand at that point, and had to testify. The Christmas music volume seemed to loud, I turned it down. There was a quiet between us now that had never been before. His eyes searched mine, for an answer- a true truth.
"Son", stammering still-"remember Missy from church? How we bought her a bear last Christmas? You know, her family is so big and they have so little, so we gave her the bear as a secret gift from us, remember?"
"Well, we did that because we know her and we like her and we thought of her when we saw the bear. Remember? We thought how Missy would love this! It was as though a voice whispered to us, only we couldn't hear the voice with our ears- it came from somewhere else..."
"Like a spirit."
"Yes! That's right, like a spirit. Well, all these gifts for all these kids we'll never know...all that comes from the spirit of giving. Beau, that's what Santa Claus really is...he's a spirit that fills us with love, with tolerance and compassion. He is everywhere all the time, but especially at Christmas his spirit is louder. We can't help but hear his voice, when we ourselves have everything we need- we feel this big overwhelming desire to give too. Just like Santa Claus."
"What is tolerance?" my son questioned.
"Tolerance is when you feel like hitting your sister when she teases you, but you don't right away. You don't want to hurt her, but sometimes she just bugs you to death and you feel like smacking her. But you know she's just a little kid, you know it's not right to hit her, so you go climb a tree or something. Often times, she finally leaves you alone and you find something else to do and you forget what it was you even wanted to smack her for. You do this because you love her mostly, so her behavior eventually doesn't bother you so much. Does that make sense?"
"No. I still mostly want to smack her, but I don't want to get in trouble." Beau honestly remarked.
"Right... Well anyway...how does it feel to be Santa Claus?" now I was questioning, hoping for the light to go on in his young head.
I remember he was thoughtfully quiet again, looking out through the windshield, then looking back in at all the packages. By this time, Kathy had turned her vehicle around and pulled right up in front of us.
"I get it. There really is a Santa Claus, only sometimes we have to be him. Sometimes people forget to give or they don't have money and we have to help them. And my family is my Santa Claus because they love me and never forget. I know who Santa Claus is, I know...!"
"But you can't tell, OK? Only people who are ready to know get to be Santa Claus. Little kids don't understand, they need to believe in Santa just the way you always did. It makes them happy and excited. But being Santa, when you're ready- is just as exciting! What do you think?"...more questioning.
"Yeah, it's OK...but I'm still a kid and I like wondering what will be under the tree, I still need Santa Claus."
We eventually delivered the gifts, Beau asking the case worker if we could go along and see the faces. I remember her stunned look at me. She just smiled and left the answering to me.
"We don't need to see the faces, do we? Don't we know how good it will be? Don't we just feel like the best of the best right now? If we deliver them, and they're not ready to know- and they quit believing in Santa Claus...I just think it might make them sad."
My son agreed, without questions this time.
"Santa Claus is real, if you believe. If you don't believe, just wait and see what presents you get- there are kids all over the world who believe and they get their gifts and your gifts too. That's how it works." He was good and kind and had quite the flair for manipulation when most needed. And in his time, what a Santa he was- I still to this day wear the diamond ring with four stones that he gave me, never taking it off.
"Mom, I couldn't help it- I saw the ring in a window and those diamonds reminded me of us kids, how you love us more than anything."
Of course I cried and got on him, this gift was too expensive- he couldn't afford it. In front of the family, I must have hurt his feelings a bit. I took him aside later and couldn't really speak well of how I felt. Again, a quiet between us- I looked at that face that said everything there is to say about the selfless act of giving a gift just to share in the joy of the receiver. I must have smiled the right smile, he returned it and we hugged like two big old bears. Best of the best feeling of all.