it all happened quite by accident, i assure you. when tristan was nearly 1 he enjoyed celebrating his first christmas with us and we enjoyed celebrating our first christmas with him even more. after opening a few presents at home as a family of 3, we packed the car up and drove to sis and rob's house to spend the rest of the day with josh's family. as we pulled up to their house, kaylee and johnny, then 5 and 3 (in adorable matching red plaid pajamas) bounded out of the house so eager to show us that "santa came!!" the evidence was clear: a large bite taken out of each of the 3 cookies left on the plate, almost an entire glass of milk emptied, and pieces of carrot strewn about the backyard leftover from the reindeer's snack. not having grown up in a home where santa was a real, live, magical person, i wasn't sure what i thought of all the hubub. sure, it was cute to see the wonder and genuine belief in their little eyes, but it sort of seemed rather misleading to me.
the following christmas, tristan was nearly 2. we flew up to canada to spend a wonderful white christmas with my family and i doubt the name "santa" came up at all. then, last year happened. tristan was nearly 3 and the perfect age for starting to "get" the whole idea of anticipation and surprises. i had no intention of promoting the whole santa thing to him, but my old beat up copy of "rudolph the red nosed reindeer" became his favorite show, and so he learned pretty much everything he needed to know about the jolly old elf. seeing his eyes light up when we'd pass an inflatable santa in somebody's front yard only fueled my desire for him to experience a bit of childhood magic, and so i started telling him things now and then about santa which eventually led to sitting on santa's lap (his eyes closed tightly shut because he was so shy) and whispering into santa's ear that he wanted a "buzz with wings" for christmas. on christmas morning, his own face filled with awe as he saw big bites taken out of the cookies he had left the night before and the glass of milk almost empty. and then when he opened the one gift for him that was from santa.....well, there was no turning back after that.
i've never had anything against santa at all. the real saint nicholas was a wonderful man who did a lot of good and i think its wonderful to remember such generosity and celebrate it. what i do have a problem with, however, is how santa and his reindeer and the presents are so exciting for children that it can all very easily overshadow the real reason we celebrate christmas: the manger. this is why my parents never pretended with us that santa was still alive; they knew we'd hear a lot about santa from everywhere else, but they wanted us to hear and learn about the true meaning of christmas in our home.
this year, i've spent much more time talking with tristan about the christmas story and helping him to understand the importance of the event of Christ's birth. i still read "twas the night before christmas" to him when he wants me to, but the majority of christmas books in our home are retellings of the nativity. instead of sitting on santa's lap this year, the boys tied their christmas lists to helium balloons and let them sail to the north pole. each boy will get 1 present from santa, wrapped special in an enormous bow and we will definitely set out cookies and milk on christmas eve. i don't feel guilty at all for make-believing with my kids something that many parents in the Christian community tend to shun. neither do i feel like i missed out on something in my childhood and need to make up for it with my own kids.
how do i know that the excitement of santa isn't overshadowing the humble babe in the stable? well, for one, i can't seem to keep the various nativity sets in my home nicely displayed. the ones that are within tristan's reach have everyone clumped together with their backs turned to the room. he explained to me, "but mommy, the shepherds and kings aren't supposed to look at us; they all came to see baby Jesus, so they have to look at him!" which is very true. the other hint was when we pulled up to the christmas tree farm last week to cut a tree down. tristan was expecting an inflatable jumpy to play in since they had one last year, but there was no jumpy to be seen. "its okay, tristan" i told him, "we still get to go pick a tree and cut it down and that's the best part!" "no it isn't, mommy!" he said earnestly, "the best part about christmas is baby Jesus; not christmas trees." oh, right. my bad.