Tomorrow is Christmas, so let me begin by wishing you all peace and goodwill. This time of year brings joy to some and despair to others. For me it’s always a time of hope. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope that we will do better at loving ourselves and others.
Give the gift of story, tickets for Donna Washington.
A friend of mine, Glenn Crone, passed away a couple of years ago. He was an amazing man. I recorded seven hours of interviews with him and showed them at the gathering after his funeral. He wrote There Really is a Santa Claus in 1968. He said one of the goals of the Christmas season was to help children migrate from a culture of getting to a culture of giving. He believed there were only four questions children wanted answers for:
1. Is there a Santa Claus?
2. Is there more than one?
3. Are you one?
4. Can I be one, too?
Answering “yes” when they reached the appropriate stage in their development was a way to share the myth without lying to them.
All of this is a prelude to Linda Goodman’s story you’ll find below.
At 4:00 this afternoon you’ll find Marie and me at our church’s children’s pageant.
This is a particular favorite of mine especially since my children and grandson are grown and I no longer have to worry about what they will do. I love watching the tweens try to wrangle the tots. After the service, I generally hurt from smiling so hard.
I’m including a couple of vignettes from past pageants that touched my heart. For me, these little memories are similar to the tangerine I used to find in the toe of my stocking.
Remember: You Matter. Your Stories Matter. Tell Them Well!
The Storytellers Channel
Santa and Me
© 2010 Linda Goodman
On August 21, 2010, Dalton Duling died. Duling’s alter ego, Sergeant Santa, was a legend in the greater Richmond area. A former police sergeant, he spent the last thirty-seven years of his life bringing Christmas to children who would not otherwise have had much to celebrate.
As I read his obituary, I remembered that my husband, Phil, had once worked with Duling’s wife, Dale. She had given Phil an 8 by 10 autographed glossy black and white photo of Sergeant Santa for our granddaughter Morgan. Phil asked me to put it in a safe place until we saw Morgan again. I put it in a place that was so safe, I forgot where it was.
During a visit when Morgan was five years old, she asked me, “Mawmaw, is Santa Claus pretend?”
I was not quite sure how to answer that question. I myself had a checkered past with Santa. In the mountains, where I was born, Santa did not come to our small, one-room house. Daddy said that our roof would not support a sleigh with eight reindeer, no matter how tiny they were.
Santa did, however, come through the area on a train, which stopped at various stations along its route so that presents could be dropped off for children in the region. Several books have been written about the Santa Train. Most of these books tell joy-filled stories. Daddy did not allow me or my siblings to go to the Santa Train. That would have been accepting charity, which my father frowned upon. We did, however, hear the stories told by friends who had gone to meet the train. Many of those stories were completely devoid of joy. A small child could get a decent present only if he was accompanied by an older sibling. Otherwise, the big kids overran the smaller ones in a winner take all scenario. Most of the stories that I heard were heartbreaking.
Santa did come to our house once we moved to the city (for some reason, it was not charity if Santa came to your house). On Christmas, I usually got an orange, a couple of walnuts, and some paper dolls that looked like something my father would have made. Meanwhile, the rich kids (to me, a rich kid was any kid who lived in a home that wasn’t missing shingles) got Betsy Wetsy dolls and cap guns. Clearly, Santa liked rich kids better.
My best friend, Carole Ann, spent one Christmas with a foster family. She told me that the real kids got great gifts. The boy got a set of GI Joe figurines, and the girl got a Candy Fashion doll with three evening gowns (not dresses – evening gowns!). Carole Ann said all she got was some underwear and a knock-off Barbie doll whose clothes fell apart when she changed them. I was incensed! How could Santa show such favoritism when rich and poor were in the same house? He was downright mean.
When I found out that Santa was not real, I was relieved. I found it comforting to know that there was no cosmic master of the toy universe who denied poor kids their due at Christmas time.
When I had a child of my own, I decided that she would not be tortured, as I had been, by the Santa myth. As soon as Melanie was old enough to speak, I taught her to say “No Santa!” The first time she saw Santa at a shopping mall, though, she pointed at him and insisted, “See, Mommy, he is real!”
I told her to go ahead and sit on his lap, but to be sure to feel the backs of his ears for the hooks that held his beard in place. She did just that, later admitting, somewhat reluctantly,” It’s true, Mommy. He’s not real.”
“That right,” I affirmed. “There is no man in a red suit flying through the air in a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer. Your single mother buys what she can afford for your Christmas. That’s what all parents do.”
Of course, the next school day she told all her classmates that Santa was a fake. Her shocked and disapproving teacher gave her detention for the next three days, leaving her traumatized for some time to come. In fact, eighteen years later, when I walked into her hospital room, my arms reaching for my new granddaughter, Morgan, Melanie held her baby close and growled, “This child will believe in Santa Claus!”
What could I do but play along? And I must admit that when I awakened on the Christmas day that Morgan was three years old, the first year she was aware of all the hoopla, I was thrilled to hear her sit up and bed and loudly call out, “Did he come?”
Then I watched in awe as she walked downstairs and entered the wonderland of toys that her pawpaw and her daddy had assembled for her. She went from one to the other, hugging her new doll, playing her new keyboard, unpacking her tea set….. Finally laughing in delight as she spotted the empty plate and glass that had held cookies and milk for Santa.
She was in awe when she found the letter that Santa had left for her. She was smiling and crying at the same time as her mother read the letter to her. I must admit that I shed a few tears of my own as I watched her big blue eyes widen with wonder.
And now this same child was asking me, “Mawmaw, is Santa Claus pretend?”
I decided to answer her question with a question. “Why do you ask?”
“Well,” she replied, “a boy in my class is telling everybody that Santa Claus is pretend.”
I asked another question. “What do you think?”
She thought for a moment. “Well, Mawmaw, he is awful fat. How can somebody that fat fit down a chimbley?”
This was going to be tough, but I was up for it. “Morgan, remember when we found that mouse in my house, and you asked me how it got in?
Remember I told you that mice could collapse their bodies to a quarter of an inch and slip in through a heating grate?”
I continued. “Well, Santa is magic! Just like a mouse, he can collapse his body so that it’s small enough to slide down any chimney.”
“But, Mawmaw, sometimes I’m at my house on Christmas, and sometimes I’m at your house, and sometimes I’m at Granny Annie’s. How does Santa always know where to bring my toys?”
“I write him a letter every November to let him know where you will be.”
“But your fireplace has glass in the front of it. How does Santa get through that without breaking it or cutting himself?”
“You Pawpaw is very handy. He takes the glass out of the fireplace after you go to bed, and he puts it back after Santa leaves.”
“How does Santa get into houses that don’t have chimbleys?
“For those houses, Santa has a magic key that opens any door.”
Now she really looked confused. “If Santa has a key that opens any door, why does he bother with chimbleys at all?”
I was running out of answers. “Have you asked your mom about this?”
She looked up at me with trusting blue eyes. “Yes, I did ask Mommy, but I know that you will tell me the truth.”
I was in a quandary. I did not want to be the one to tell her that Santa Claus was not real; yet, if I withheld the truth now, she might never trust me again. How could I extricate myself from this dilemma?
Suddenly, out of nowhere, an image of an 8 x 10 black and white photo, lying underneath a row of hanging file folders in a drawer of the cabinet in my office, filled my head.
“Just a minute, honey,” I told her as I ran from the room. “I’ll be right back!”
I hurried to the filing cabinet in my office and searched as fast as my fingers would sift. In the third drawer down, I found what I wanted, just as my unexpected image had shown me.
Quickly I ran back to Morgan. “Here!” I gushed as I handed her the photo. “This is a picture signed by the man himself!”
She stared at the black and white photo. “What did he sign his name Sergeant Santa?”
“Uhm….that’s what the elves call him,” I improvised. “It’s like a boot camp in the North Pole around Christmas time!”
She traced his beard with her index finger. She ran her fingers across his signature. “I knew he was real,” she whispered.
The following Monday, Morgan took that photo to school with her and showed it to all her friends who had been told that Santa was just pretend.
Together they confronted the bully who had tried to shake their faith, showing him proof that Santa was real. My daughter told me that Morgan became a heroine to her classmates.
A few years later, my daughter called to me that Morgan had found out that Santa was a myth.
“Who told her?” I asked.
“Nobody told her,” I was informed. “Her class was studying aerodynamics and she figured it out all by herself.”
I asked to speak to Morgan. When she came to the phone, I asked her if she was okay.
“Sure, Mawmaw,” she replied. “It’s just Santa. It’s not like it was God or anything. But, you know, it was fun to believe for a while. I think I will probably pretend that I still believe. You know, for my baby sister.” She paused before adding, “It’s like that storytelling thing you always say – Just because it can’t happen doesn’t mean it isn’t real.”
Morgan still has the picture I gave her, and I’m sure that Sergeant Santa would be happy to know that one of his autographed black and white photos is tacked to the bulletin board in the room of a fourteen year old girl in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
As for myself, I still have mixed feelings about Santa Claus. I still cringe when I see parents spent enough money to buy a full month’s food supply on toys that lose their luster after a few weeks, while so many others struggle just to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. There is something tragically wrong with that scenario.
And yet, I cannot help but fondly remember the thrill of that magic Christmas long ago, when I heard a three-year-old girl calling, “Did he come?”
A few years ago, Abie, the little boy playing the Star in the East, ran ahead of the procession leaping and grinning from ear to ear. Marie chatted with his mother about how energetic he had been.
She wasn’t being snotty, Abie is generally a quiet and reserved child. His momma said, “After giving great thought to his role, Abie had decided the Star had to have been very happy to have been able to make the announce proclaiming the birth of The Prince of Peace.
It had never crossed my mind to anthropomorphize the Star. Much less to attribute Joy. Every time I see Abie, I smile.
A similar re-framing of something I have taken for granted for decades was turned on its head when I attended the Christmas production with a cast of thousands at a local mega church a few years ago. When it came time to knock on Inn’s door, I was expecting the usual slamming of door in their face with a surly, “Go away.” Instead the Innkeeper demonstrated distress that he was full up, but he used his imagination and repurposed a stall in his stable so the couple would have a roof over their head. A story that had always been presented as one of heartlessness was retold as one of generosity. Bringing to mind my mantra: We live into the stories we tell ourselves. I imagine Joseph and Mary were pleased to have a roof over their head.
I’m feeling grateful for the gift of story.
This might not be a bad last minute gift. Hint Hint
I Want to Hear from You
For those of you on the road, Travelin’ Mercies. For those of you at home I wish you peace.
If the spirit moves you drop me a line with a story that brings you joy.
Til next time,