The stockings all hung in a row...waiting, waiting to be filled...
In the morning, my three oldest rush for their treats. (The baby has yet to discover the allure of sugar. Shh...no one tell him.) Cheerful bulges in the toe, the corner of a ribbon peeping over the top: they know they have been good this year. Oh, so very good.
Eager hands reach deep, pulling out a candy cane or a bag of chocolate coins. A family of licorice penguins. Tickets to the ballet. And last of all, the note.
Dear Sophia, you are always such a good girl...
Dear James, you have grown so much in obedience this year...
Dear, sweet, Abby, may you grow in kindness this year and learn to share...
Encouragement, always encouragement first. Then a reminder to grow in virtue. Was it truthfulness this year or compassion? A helpful hand or a thankful heart? Impressionable young minds remember--because St. Nicholas said it.
I don't believe in lying, no. I have always told the children the absolute truth. The questions come early nowadays, wide eyes anxious for reassurance. Whispering, "Mama, is Santa real?"
I tell them of the Saint of Myra. The one who walked the streets of Christmas long, long past. He became a priest and then a bishop. The one who loved children. His generous heart was always seeking ways to brighten darkness, to lighten despair. I tell them the legend of the coins and of the ships. Yes, he was real.
"But does he really come to our house?"
Ah, there's the rub. I bend knees and look them eye-to-eye and tell it true as I know how.
"Santa is as real as we imagine him to be."
There will always be the temptation in Christian America to seize our Puritan roots in both hands. To gather our convictions like a cloak against the cold. But why? What do we have to fear by seeing through children's eyes?
Our children are not yet fluent in the language of cold fact. They still deal in dreams. They speak poetry. To them, magic is not a dark occult act. It is the sunlight on a spider's dewy web. It is a fantasy of what will one day be. The child who approaches with the question, "Are there snowmen on the moon?" is not looking for the logical and honest, "No."
"Snowmen are white like the moon," we say. That will suffice. Enough to set the dreamer once again on his path of play--the path that leads him onward and upward until he is ready to join us in our colder language of science. The terseness of our world is not for children's hearts.
Is it a sin to skip Santa? No. That is the logical, honest answer. But instead of cold logic, I offer you this food for thought: Is it a sin to imagine?
I do not want my children to know only the cold facts. They have never seen a fairy, true, but it is not the lack of seeing that makes the fairy fantasy. If they believe only what their eyes tell them, how will they ever know angels? How will they see God?
You see, they need to be looking everywhere.
In the dewy spider's web. In the snow-white moon. In open hands, full stomachs, in the eyes of each imago Dei, and yes, in the stories of the saints.
Legends of ships and dowries may be no truer than those of reindeer and chimneys, but they speak of something that is true. Generosity. The wonder of joy that cannot be conveyed by fact alone. That has to be felt in the magic of a moment that takes us utterly by surprise. The kind of surprise the Wise Men witnessed in a stable in Bethlehem.
Do we need Santa? No... but we do need wonder.
No, the man with the white beard is not really coming down our chimney. Nor will Jesus lift you up (literally) on eagle's wings. But, don't you see the metaphor of it? Have our hearts forgotten how to speak in dreams?
I submit that there is no sin in stuffing stockings. There is no need to fear a child's wonder. They will learn the facts soon enough. Trust me.
Hold your convictions close, by all means, but do not fear the cold. Do not be afraid--this season and always--to imagine.