The neighbor girl, age 8, came past today as I was mowing the lawn and since I hadn’t seen her for a couple of weeks I stopped the tractor for a chat. I asked her how she was and it led to a conversation that went something like this…
“So how have you been lately?”
“Great, my school had a “one”derful Christmas thing and my mom gave me $20 to spend. I got all my shopping done for my whole family. Everything was one dollar.” She named off her five family members that she had bought for and confessed that she had spent most of the remaining money on herself.
“What do you think this whole Christmas thing is about?” I asked.
After a bit of thinking she explained that it was the birthday of Jesus.
“So isn’t it kind of weird that we give presents to everybody else on Jesus’ birthday?”
“Well, not really,” she said. “ It’s Jesus’ birthday but lots of people just don’t care and they want presents because it’s fun to get them. I really believe in Santa.”
“Oh yeah? You mean he’s a real person? What does he do?”
“He gives presents to kids when their parents can’t get them anything, so they can have fun too.”
“And he wears the red suit and the cap and all?”
“Yes, and he comes down the chimney. I saw the reindeer too once.”
“What do you think about all the other people who dress up like him and say they’re Santa?”
“So, he must be pretty skinny if he fits down peoples’ chimneys?”
“No, he eat cookies at everybody’s house.”
“Oh, so he’s fat. Isn’t that a problem?”
She wasn’t used to being grilled on her Santa knowledge and by this time she was getting at a loss for words and frustrated with me. “Santa is magic, that’s how he gets in.” This was followed by an expose about her dad who had played a trick on her a couple years ago, saying he was teleported into their house, when really he had snuck around through the back door. “Now he tells me!” she says, rolling her eyes and explaining that Santa is different, magic.
“And does Santa get stuff for you?”
“Yes, three or four things and he puts them under the tree. My dad said he quit getting presents when he was four, and I said, why would you quit getting presents?! But his family didn’t keep Christmas after that and they didn’t have a tree.”
“What? If you don’t have a tree he doesn’t leave any presents?”
“Well, he has to have a tree. I have a friend who has little Christmas trees in three different rooms and Santa left presents under every tree. My mom tells him what she’s getting me so he knows to get different stuff. “
“How does she tell him?”
“She has his number. She calls him.”
“Well, I have to get back to mowing the lawn, and you probably have something to do too.”
“Yeah, see ya.”
And so ended our conversation. I was so fascinated at the intricacy of the fabrication she had constructed that I didn’t even attempt to address the reality of Santa. Her parents had put some time and trouble into reinforcing the story and although I had started a relationship with her, I didn’t feel it was my place to break the news. Perhaps I should have given her more to think about, and maybe I will the next time I see her. How does one begin to tell the real, deeper story?
I couldn’t help but think, as I rode around on the mower, how much effort we put into various distractions on the Christmas theme – time to decorate, time to bake, shop, party. It has to leave the birthday boy feeling a little left out, if it’s really his birthday. Something to think about.,,