Letters to Ezra: Don’t stop believing
You asked the question the other day, the one that all parents who drink up the wonder and innocence of their offspring’s childhood like a desert-dweller kneeling waterside at an oasis:
“Are there two Santas?”
It’s an innocuous question, and certainly one that I should have expected given your analytical, inquisitive way of looking at the world. After all, you pointed out, he looks different every time you see him. The Santa at the mall doesn’t look the same as the jolly old elf you saw last year at Fantasy of Trees.
I’m being melodramatic, I realize, but your question snapped off a tiny sliver of my heart, because it means one thing: You’re growing up. You’re becoming more observant. Your eyes are opening to the ways of the world. And like Adam and Eve after eating of the apple in the Garden of Eden, the purity with which you view the world will soon be filtered through lenses of cynicism, angst, worry and disdain.
I don’t know about every other parent, but I see in you the little boy I once was, and I miss the simplicity with which he experienced life. Certain Christmas memories burn bright in my mind because of my own childlike wonder: Face pressed to the sliding glass door of the downstairs den at our old house, squinting up at a December night sky, trying to distinguish a sleigh being pulled by reindeer from the frozen stars swirling overhead. A solemn sense of reverence as I sit in my mother’s lap, listening to my own father read the Christmas story from the Book of Luke as he sits on the brick hearth beside a crackling fire. Being led through a tunnel of toys at the old Sear’s building off Central Street in Knoxville’s Downtown North neighborhood, unable to fathom all of the trinkets and gadgets that surround me, a girl dressed in green felt beckoning me onward to an awaiting Santa.
I left that place of marvel and excitement a long time ago, and while I feel its vestiges again every holiday season, I never realized how much I love it and long for it until experiencing Christmas again in you, son. There’s a picture I have, somewhere, of me holding you, barely a year old, in front of a decorated Christmas tree. Its lights are reflected in your eyes, and you’re smiling as you grasp for an ornament. Your Uncle Mike took it, and I think it’s a favorite of us both because we see the little boys we both used to be in those swirling orbs through which reality is filtered to become magic.
Your question gave me pause the other day, and I hesitated over how to answer. In the end, I gave you the only one I know, the truth as I understand and believe it to be: Santa is magic. Santa changes. Santa is Santa, and he loves you.
You’re not quite old enough to grasp the idea of symbolism, and I have no doubt there will come a time when believing in Santa Claus will make you the subject of ridicule by the hard-hearted peers who for some reason think belief equals immaturity. You will scoff at us for misleading you, and you’ll no doubt prowl the house when you think we’re not paying attention, hoping to discover the hiding place where we’ve stashed away your presents.
Believe me, I speak from experience.
But there will come a time, I hope, that you come full circle. Maybe you’ll reach a place of self-acceptance where you find it’s perfectly OK to believe in Santa Claus; maybe you’ll believe again when you have children of your own. Or maybe you’ll never stop believing, even after you figure out that Santa is more of an idea than an actual person. Maybe you’ll come to accept that Santa represents joy and love and happiness, and that he lives on in our hearts even if he doesn’t squeeze down chimneys.
Maybe you’ll believe, as I do again, that he is as real as every other concept of love in this world, and more: That he’s needed.
The world could use more Santa, as well as more believers in him. Not the switches-and-coal arbiter of behavior that the old tales would have you believe, but as the rosy-cheeked, twinkling-eyed icon of a time when we should reach out to one another in fellowship and kindness. That time, I hope you come to understand, shouldn’t be restricted to the Christmas season. Of course, seeing Santa in a swimsuit during Independence Day is wrong on a number of levels, but the ideas that he represents shouldn’t be limited to December.
Santa represents the better angels of our nature, son. He is the embodiment of all the things you, and so many children just like you, are to us parents who love you with such ferocity that it feels as if our hearts will break our ribs from the inside.
I hope you never stop believing in him. And even if you do, I hope you’ll believe that I believe, and that one day my own faith will lead you back to the magic for which we long the rest of our lives.
Merry Christmas, son.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.