One very vivid memory I have from childhood is spending Christmas with my grandparents. I loved it when my aunt and cousins would come, too. My two older cousins and I would sleep in the downstairs guest bedroom, which had plaster walls, and a brownish linoleum tiled floor that sloped just a little bit away from the door. All my smaller siblings had to sleep upstairs with my parents, in the garret. (Now that I think of it, I can’t recall where my aunt slept. We may have stashed her in the pantry, which was cleverly tucked behind the fridge, and under the stairs.)
Tucked in bed in the guest room with my solitary female cousin, and her brother in a cot set up cross-wise at the foot of the bed, we’d wait, and wait, and wait.
We were waiting for Grandad to holler “Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas” up the stairs. It was the signal that Christmas morning had officially arrived.
(One year, about 3am, we decided to inspire “Santa” just a bit, and snuck out of bed. Chrissy knew how to make coffee, so we started a pot, sure it would wake Grandad, and we could start Christmas early. My mother, who was probably up taking some small person to the bathroom, caught us. She sent us back to bed with a stern warning to Stay Put until we heard “Santa.” We did.)
In all that, though, I never really believed in Santa. I loved the pleasant fiction of the whole arrangement, but didn’t get into Santa Claus like some others do.
Consequently, as I grew up, got married, and had babies right off, I was hesitant to introduce that sort of fiction, simply because I knew I could not sustain the enthusiasm necessary to pull off that sort of year-to-year whammy.
So, we don’t “do” Santa.
You must understand, this is pretty much heresy to my poor, darling Mother-In-Law. If Santa had a head elf on the Gulf Coast, my husband’s mother would be it. She is amazing. She likes me, even though this “not really doing Santa” business confuses and confounds her.
My kids, however, don’t seem to mind. We’ve talked about Santa, and they know other families (including Grandma) “do” Santa, and that it would be rude to downplay or decry that pleasant tradition. We’ve talked about the historic St. Nicholas, and how Santa Claus is a symbol of the spirit of giving and kindness and wonder. We watch The Santa Clause and The Polar Express every single Christmas (and Galaxy Quest, but that’s my spin on the tradition of Christmas movies. Alan Rickman equals Happy Christmas to Me.)
Back about ten years, when my husband worked with a fellow who did computers for money, cartography and philanthropy for fun, he’d dress up as a nutcracker soldier (in full Highland regalia, feather bonnet included), and go be Nutcracker to his colleague’s Santa, as they passed out toys at the children’s hospital on the hill. Now that Santa Rob is retired, and hubby’s formerly-red beard is nearly white, he’s looking forward to bribing me into making a magnificent scarlet velvet Santa suit, and taking up the reins as the Jolly Old Elf himself.
So it’s not that we’re truly anti-Santa.
Instead of Santa and presents and the North Pole and gaiety, we do focus more on the religious meanings of Christmas. Our gift-giving is usually pretty modest, but it’s always undertaken with a lot of planning, conspiring, secretive meetings amongst siblings… oh, and love. Always love.
Love, and threats, if anyone squeals. Because that’s the true spirit of Christmas.
Taking Santa out of Christmas has helped me to clarify the meaning of the holiday–that it is a holy day, and a reason for everlasting celebration, not just some frenzied shopping and hasty unwrapping. I don’t miss the old fellow a bit.
(And, we don’t “do” the Easter Bunny, either.)
So, it’s August–and I’m posting about Santa, or the lack there-of, because our actual Christmas observance takes a lot of prep work, and if I don’t get started soon, I’m going to be crazy in December. I have a feeling I need to change that. Simplicity should not be so complex.