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This isn’t really travel related, but it is very parent related, so if you are into that sort of thing, read on.
I love Santa Claus just about as much as I love travel. I love the idea of magic, of giving, of mystery, unanswered questions, of surprise, delight, belief, happy children, anticipation and all that surrounds the legend of Santa. I loved Santa as a child, and I don’t remember a specific turning point when I went from a recipient of his gifts to being one of his team members who helps spread Christmas joy to others. That transition obviously happened, though not in an abrupt or cataclysmic moment, but rather in a magical and gentle shift throughout the years that was so natural I can’t even remember it.
My first daughter was born just before Christmas almost eight years ago, and in fact, she came home from the hospital for the first time on Christmas morning where she was promptly placed into a stocking. She didn’t get a chance to visit Santa that year, but has faithfully every other year since.
In fact, on many years we have turned it into a pilgrimage to see the real Santa at one of the spots he visits where he can see the most children, which of course is often at Macy’s on 34th Street in NYC though we have also encountered him at some other unexpected spots along the way.
At Christmastime, our mantle is over-filled with the now eight and counting annual framed photos with Santa and our children. The last three photos have both of our girls pictured, and in only one of those photos is our youngest screaming her lungs out. It’s okay though, I imagine it is overwhelming to take in the magic of Santa as a one-year-old.
This year our oldest, now an almost eight-year-old, visited Santa just as we have every other year. She asked for a gift, “anything Harry Potter”, this time around. In previous years the big request has been for gifts that have varied from “squishy pony toys” (that was actually a very tough order), an iPad, a drum set, Paw Patrols, and a variety of other assorted treasures.
This year, she smiled for the photo and she made her annual request, but some things were ever so slightly different. When Santa was walking up the hall to take his seat and start visiting the boys and girls she didn’t even bother to turn around to see him arrive despite us hooting like Buddy the Elf that “Santa was coming!”. She wasn’t in awe of his soft red suit and shiny black books as they drew near. She wasn’t visibly nervous or excited to talk to him.
She was, however, a fantastic big sister to her slightly nervous little sister when she needed the courage to ask for her much anticipated gifts, a Batgirl toy and a Blaze and the Monster machines. It was a good visit with Santa, but it wasn’t surrounded by quite as much build-up and anticipation for my strong and beautiful second grader as it had been in the past.
Over the weekend we had our extended family Christmas at my aunt’s house. She has special North Pole connections and had arranged for Santa to do a drop-by to visit with the kids. I had no idea it was possible for Santa to do a home visit, so I thought this would be very exciting. We had of course already visited him this year, but there’s no such thing as too much Santa, so when he arrived almost everyone was very excited.
My cousin’s kids, ages 5 and 3 were happy to see and talk to him, and my 2-year-old has now seen him enough this year to be happy instead of afraid, which was great. However, my oldest daughter needed some coaxing to go say hello. She wasn’t unhappy that he was there, she just wasn’t as enthralled as you might imagine a kid to be when Santa unexpectedly walks in the room just a few days before Christmas.
When she did ultimately pay him a visit, she had a number of questions, and none of them were about which games the reindeer are playing, or his favorite type of cookie, or how the scout elves were doing this year. No, her questions were more interrogative in nature. She wanted to know exactly how it is possible to visit all of the house around the world in one night. I mean, let’s be real, she knows it takes eight hours just to fly from here to Europe on a jet without any stops along the way. Even with some help of shifting time zones, she knows it is a stretch to get it all done in a night.
She seemed satisfied enough with his skillful answers to her questions, but I imagine some questions still remain. As I started wrapping gifts today and had to be extremely strategic about which tags, wrapping paper, and even handwriting are used for the Santa gifts vs. those from us, it didn’t feel that magical. It felt a little bit more like another task or chore that kind of made my brain hurt. In my mind, magic doesn’t rely on an alternate handwriting style. I wonder if for her visiting Santa is starting to feel less like a magical event and more like a perfunctory task the way that sorting and wrapping the gifts did for me.
I imagine that if she were to board the Polar Express this year she would still hear the silver bell ring, but perhaps not as loudly as she did in years past. She now has a mind full of questions, logic, and skepticism to go along with the joy, belief, and magic.
She still looks for our scout elf, Chippy, each morning. I imagine milk, cookies, and reindeer food will still be set out. I’m sure she will listen desperately for the sound of reindeer holves on the roof on Christmas Eve, and will happily tear through the very meticulously organized presents on Christmas Morning. Santa will come this year as he has in years past, but I can’t help but notice that we are probably starting our long, slow, goodbye to the Santa that she has known since she was placed in a stocking at just 48 hours old.
Thankfully, in this family, we never truly say goodbye to Santa. We simply get to say hello to another version of the legend, one in which we get to take an active role in helping him spread joy to others, including her younger sister who is just beginning her magical relationship with all things Santa.
The magic is real, the excitement is real, the giving is real, the smiles are real, and in all of the important ways, so is my Santa. I’ll be sad in some ways when my first born says goodbye to the Santa of her childhood, but I’ll be happy to have her join me in helping the Santa of the rest of her life.
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