I've been mulling over writing this post for quite a while now (as in the past 3 years, actually) and in my sleep deprived state, I have ultimately decided, 'eh, why not.
Growing up, Santa Claus was a big deal in our household. There were many things that we celebrated throughout the year, but few paled into comparison as the way we would celebrate Easter, Christmas, and our birthdays. Each of those days was very special to us: our birthdays because it was one single day where the focus was solely on us; Easter because of our risen Lord, Christmas because of the birth of our Lord. Like many Americans, we adopted the cultural norms surrounding each holiday and it wasn't until I was older that I discovered the rich history behind the traditions...and the not-so-rich history behind them. I digress...
We believed in Santa. I don't know where it came about or how it came about, but I believed in Santa Claus. Or maybe the idea of him. Because I honestly believed that Santa Claus came to visit us, even though we didn't have a fireplace, he somehow made it through the central heating unit and flooded our tree with extravagant gifts. I also believed that there was a Pancho Claus and a Black Santa who would sub in and out for him, all of whom were traveling the world at a break neck pace to deliver the toys to the good children. Mom...well, mom made it very special for us. Looking back, it wasn't like she made it unobvious. I remember going to K-Mart and putting our toys on layaway. I also remember going there in the summer to shop for school clothes and late summer to stow away our jackets. Oh the wonders of layaway. I remember going to the back of the store to wait in line with my mom while she made the layaway payment. And less than a handful of times, I was there when she made the final payment and loaded up on the giant bags that were stashed away. I remember when the first Toys R Us opened in our town and the first time we were given the catalog to circle what we wanted for Christmas. I remember begging my father to take us there so we could oogle over the shiny new toys. He begrudgingly took us one afternoon and after that visit, I was completely turned off by the store all together. Until I saw Big, and then I couldn't wait to visit F.A.O. Schwartz. I remember getting my hands on one of their catalogs one time and again, drooling over the shiny new toys. And then I saw the price tag of them and quickly realized that those types of toys were not for a gal like me. They were reserved for the rich kids whose neighborhoods we would visit during the holidays and stare in amazement of the twinkling shimmering lights from the comfort of our station wagon while we sipped on cocoa from the thermos lid cup. Those kids lived like Richie Rich and that boy from The Toy. I remember thumbing through the Best catalog in the toy section and circling toys that I wanted. Every year, I circled the trampoline and ant farm. Neither of which I ever got. After my friend's ants had escaped from his ant farm one time, I was quite content with staring at the ant farm from at distance at my school. I still wanted the trampoline. One year, I knew I had been extra good and asked for a bicycle from Santa. I wasn't at all surprised when it was sitting there for me. I was very happy about it, and smiled and tried to give it to my sister. I knew she had wanted a bike and in my opinion, she hadn't been very good, so I was going to give the bike I knew I'd get to her. It didn't end well. To this day, I don't like to ride bikes and I seem to crash them. One year I really, really wanted a Cabbage Patch doll and a Care Bears sleeping bag. That year, I received both from Santa.
All that to say, this was the tradition. We'd get the toy catalogs in the mail. We would take out the pen and circle what we wanted. Occasionally, I'd tear a page out of the very special toys I wanted most. We'd watch Miracle on 34th Street and be amazed that the little girl didn't believe in Santa. We'd also watch A Christmas Story and part of Charlie Brown. We would string garland from popcorn, make Christmas tree crafts, and make colorful construction paper chains. We would put up our Nativity Scene first, then the tree and stockings, which were stapled to the wall. We'd visit Santa in the mall, and I knew that all of those were fake Santas, not the real deal, but I still posed for the photo. We'd write our letters to Santa and light our candles on the Advent wreath. Then Christmas Eve would roll around and mom would always feign illness and have to lay in bed for the night. We would have to be very, very quiet and go to sleep early. If we had a nap, maybe Mom would feel better and we'd head to Midnight mass with her, which always seemed to be earlier than midnight. Always, when we got home, mom wouldn't feel up to par and have to go lay down again in the dark.
We'd leave out the homemade sugar cookies and a glass of eggnog or milk for Santa with a thank you note for him. I remember looking to the sky, not for his sleigh, but for the star that was leading the way for the wise men to Jesus. I would go to sleep a thousand kinds of anxious. And when we'd awake, my sister would always tell me how she heard bells and hoofsteps on the roof and how I must've missed it because I was such a heavy sleeper. She and I would sit together in our room in our Christmas pajamas, eager to run to the tree to check to see what Santa had brought. I don't remember it being tremendously early, but we'd fly into my parents room and get them up. We'd race to the room with the tree, and every square inch was covered in gifts. Beautifully wrapped gifts with shiny bows and fancy tags. Then, in the back, there were the quilted patchwork of wrapping paper gifts, some with a sliver of wrap covering the name of the item. But the Santa gifts!! They were fancy wrapped in thick paper, pristine corners, fabulous bows, with our names in a fancy script...a handwriting we had never before seen. Santa was real. He just had to be! The night before there were only ever one or two gifts under the tree and nothing in the stockings.
I guess I never stopped believing in Santa. Heck, at times, I even became Santa, Santa Bianca. Flitting around here and there performing random acts of kindness for strangers wishing them a Merry Christmas along the way. Because, yes, Jesus is the reason for the season, but it is in the generosity of St. Nick where we learn that giving is a wonderful gift in and of itself. It is for that reason alone that we have tried to pass on the tradition of Santa to Mari. I hope that we can be as patient and creative as my parents were, taking the time to ask friends with great handwriting to write out our names so that we don't have a clue. Sacrificing sleep to wrap the gifts perfectly. It's all a part of that childhood innocence that somehow goes hand-in-hand with the tooth fairy...belief in something magical, wondrous, and beautiful. It was believing in the unseen and unknown back then that would reinforce and strengthen my faith. She won't lose sight of the real reason for the season and we won't fall complete victims to the commercialism. But I think there is a happy medium that can be found there some how.
Unfortunately, I think I have just a few years to celebrate in this innocence, as my cherished friend put it, because so many of her peers' parents aren't "doing" Santa. Here's to hoping she'll understand the spirit of what Santa represents and have that generosity in her heart all year long. I think she already does because she is a giving child and very eager to share the gifts she has received and give them too...just like Santa.