Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Ritual of Santa

My Telling Friend is writing an essay about Santa and  needs our memories...so these are mine.

I don't remember exactly what or when my parents told me about Santa Claus...but I always had a sense that he was "out there..."  And he was watching to make sure I was being good.  He was really, really watching from about October until December, but at any moment I might be reminded that he was watching.  And if I'd been good, I could make a list for Santa.  I remember the moment each year of sitting down in front of the newly-arrived JC Penney "Big Book" catalog and composing my list.  With trembling hands, I'd quickly flip past the pages of clothes in the front until I got to the expanded toys section in the back.  It was glorious!  There were pictures of toys I'd never dreamed I might be able to own...but at Christmas, it was possible!

There were limits, of course.  Growing up as a child in the economic recession of the 1970s, I had this sense that even Santa wasn't all powerful;  I had to be selective about what I put on my list.  I wasn't going to get a whole lot of "big" things.  Still, the ritual was thrilling.  The whole book seemed like page after beautiful page of exciting possibility.  I could never get to sleep on Christmas eve.

Christmas morning had its own ritual.  My sister and I would wake up early...too early, I'm sure...and my parents would drag themselves out of bed.  We were forced to go into the kitchen and wait while Mom and Dad got coffee and brought themselves to life.  Then, Mom would find the camera...and turn on the Christmas lights.  Dad would walk into the living room and say something like "Ohh...looks like Santa forgot you girls this year!"  And then (finally!!) we'd be allowed to go in and see the tree and the presents and the magic!  Sure...there were a few presents under the tree on Christmas Eve...but Christmas morning, there was always more...different...brightly-wrapped boxes of possibility just waiting to be discovered.  I don't know how often I got anything out of the JC Penney Big Book...but I know I was never truly disappointed on Christmas morning.

And that, for me, was Santa.  My friends told me that there was no Santa, but I clung to the idea because I didn't want to let go of that Christmas-morning feeling.  I never cared if Santa was a literal jolly old man in a red suit...  I just wanted my Christmas morning to be a special occasion...with surprises...the unexpected.  One year, I was home from college and I remember my parents laughing at me because I wanted to go to bed quickly "so I wouldn't be there when Santa came."  I don't mind the ridicule...I like Christmas morning.

Now that I have a Monkey, we're forming our own traditions.  We made Christmas decorating an event last year...with old Amy Grant Christmas music and lots of little lights.  He loves the idea that the adults have to have a warm beverage before the present-opening can begin on Christmas morning.  His friends are already showering him with cynicism, but it doesn't seem to matter to him very much either.  We talk about Santa and I tell him truthfully:  I don't know if "Santa" exists or not.  I don't need Santa to guide his behavior; I do that every day.  I think we're both perfectly content for Santa to be what Santa is:  a ritual....a sense of wonderment and joy and possibility...wrapped in pretty bows in a softly lit room on a cold morning.

What more could we really ask of a benevolent Elf?

1 comment:

Amy said...

You're a mensch, Laura. Thank you. I had a fabulous conversation with a Jewish friend who is in an interfaith marriage and does the whole Santa thing too. Everyone is being so generous with their thoughts on the subject. I promise to share the final essay once I'm done. Hopefully, it will come in a pretty gift-wrapped package (publication) and I'll see if Santa will deliver!