The End of Santa Claus

When I was a child, Santa existed through illustrations in my picture books and as the mysterious, magical, stocking-stuffing man I never once met. With a Santa Clause listening to the heartfelt wishes of children in shopping malls around the globe, how is it possible I never sat on his knee? Simple.

My parents never took me to see Santa Claus. (Sniff.)

It wasn’t long before I figured out that my Mom was the maker of the magic that belongs to Christmas. I think I was seven when I noticed Santa’s wrapping paper looked exactly like ours. And let’s just overlook that his handwriting looked suspiciously like my mother’s, too…

santa

It was when I had my daughter that I decided to make up for my own childhood loss. I was determined to give my little girl more than a seat on Santa’s lap at the neighborhood mall.

Being a writer, I indulged my childhood fantasy in creating a real Santa, genuine pointy-eared elves, a cookie-baking Mrs. Clause, and a shimmering castle of ice nestled deep in the heart of the North Pole.

The bigger magic I created at Christmas began (and don’t cringe when I tell you this) when my daughter asked Santa for her very own Elf on the Shelf. While some parents sit their chid’s elf on a bookshelf on Monday, on top of the fridge on Tuesday, stuffed in the tissue box on Wednesday, etc… my writer’s imagination shifted into high gear. My daughter’s elf, Roza, would do soooo much more than the average elf! elf-of-the-shelfShe would listen to my daughter’s daily news, pay close attention when she had questions, and write letters. Nightly letters. (Picture me struggling to stay awake until my daughter lay deep asleep. Now picture me bleary eyed, padding downstairs at midnight to sit at my dining room table armed with three pairs of glasses, a pencil sharpener, and pencil.) In the tiniest handwriting possible, I answered my daughter’s daily questions about life at the North Pole, about the day to day activities of an elf, and about Santa and Mrs. Claus.

 

My daughter asked her elf questions like:

Just how old are you?  (Turns out Roza is 132 years old!)

Since you’re over one-hundred years old, did you belong to a child before me? (Turns out there were several, and the stories might amaze you.)

Are you married? (She sure is. And Roza’s husband, and fellow elf, is Santa’s head sleigh engineer.)

How many children do you have? (She has over 70.)

Do you have any pets? (This list is long and growing all the time. But I will say that Roza’s favorite pet is Mush Mush her rabbit who makes babies faster than reindeer fly.)

What’s your favorite meal? (Anything as long as it’s coated in crushed candy canes.)

How did Santa become Santa? (This answer, I’m sorry to say, could be a blog all by itself.)

Is he the only Santa we’ve ever had? Or was there a Santa before him? (Yup, another blog entry.)

How did Santa meet his wife? (She was the girl next door, of course.)

If Santa has been around back when my great, great, great, great grandfather was a little boy, what’s keeping him alive so long?  (You guessed it. This, too, could be another blog entry. )

Will Mrs. Claus live forever, too?  (Yes! Thankfully she was caught in the spell cast that turned Santa into a saint.)

Has Santa been married before? (No sirree! Santa is a one woman man.)

Do Mr. and Mrs. Claus have pets? (Their favorite pet is a polar bear that sleeps at the foot of their large bed.)

Who named the reindeer and what do the names mean? (Would you believe the elves named the reindeer? I’d go into details for each reindeer’s name, but this blog is already running long.)

How do you get down the chimney when the flu is closed? (There is an entire science to the magic behind this ability.)

How do you get into a child’s home who lives in an apartment without a chimney? (See above scientific magic.)

Okay. I guess you’re getting the idea that this mom doesn’t get much sleep in December with all these late night scribblings to invent the North Pole. And yes, there have been plenty of letters from Santa, too. (You guessed it. Those letters were written by yours truly.)

My daughter’s elf has not only written countless letters, all carefully preserved in a wooden treasure box, but Roza has made her earrings and a bracelet, baked her a batch of candy cane crunch cookies, thouroughly wrapped my writing room in yarn, toilet papered our Christmas tree, exchanged our holiday stockings at the mantel for our underwear, and made an elf-schristmas-cookiesized armchair out of marshmallows.

Year after year, my daughter has come closer and closer to questioning the magic. After all, many of her friends at school are Santa doubters.

Last week, instead of having her usual conversation with Roza, which I was always allowed to hear, my daughter decided the time had come to test the magic. When she believed I wasn’t around, she whispered something to her elf.

“What did you tell Roza?” I asked as inocently as possible.

“I asked her to do something.”

“Gee, I hope you didn’t ask her to toilet paper the house again.”

“Nothing like that,” my daughter said.

“Then what do you want her to do?”

“I’m not telling you,” she said. “This way, I’ll know for sure if Roza is a doll like my friends say she is.”

Yup, this is the moment I suffered a mild panic attack. Come morning, when my daughter awoke, Roza would not have done what she asked, and everything would clatter to the ground in a grand domino effect.

“Mommy,” she said, “you and I both know Roza is real. After all, there’s no way you would get out of bed late at night and write those letters from her. And her handwriting is so small it would take you three pairs of glasses to write them! And there’s no way you would tie up your writing room in miles of yarn. And after how mad you got when Roza toilet papered our tree… well… you just wouldn’t do something like that!” Then, she lowered the boom. “And I know you wouldn’t lie to me.”

I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. I welled up with tears because my little girl was growing up. Santa, Mrs. Clause, Roza, all the animals at the North Pole, (and did I mention that over summer vacation Roza had a baby and named it after my daughter?) the little elf baby, and all the magic I worked so hard to create was coming to an end.

“Mommy?” my daughter said. “Tell me the truth. Is Roza real?”

I slipped away to where Roza perched on our piano. I smiled at the careful placement of marshmallows she (okay…my husband and I) left on every key as I gently lifted the little elf. No more would I stay up late to sneak downstairs and create the magic. No more would I wear three pairs of glasses to answer my daughter’s important Chrismas questions. No more would I concoct elaborate plans of mischief for Roza to get into. I carried the little elf doll upstairs to my daughter, sad that the time had come to shatter the dreams I helped make real.

Anyone who knows about the elf on the shelf knows you Never touch your elf or the magic leaves, and she or he will be a doll forever. My daughter looked at Roza, cradled in my hands, and the floodgates blew wide open. She took me by the hand and sat me down with a pad of paper and pencil. “Prove to me that you wrote those letters from Roza, because I know your eyes aren’t good enough to write anything that little without putting on three pairs of glasses.”

I put on three pairs of glasses and wrote her the very last letter from Roza.

More tears, mine included.

“What about Santa?” she sobbed. “Are you him, too?”

“Honestly, sweetheart?” I said. “I am not Santa. I’m one of his devoted helpers. Santa is very real, and you can go on believing in him for the rest of your life.”

Then I told her the true story of the young man named Nicholas who became Santa.

Many years ago, back in the year 280, a boy named Nicholas was born in Patara, which is part of the country known today as Turkey. His parents were quite wealthy and raised Nicholas to believe that he should give what he could to help the less fortunate, the needy, the sick, and any people who were suffering. Because of his great kindnesses, when he was a young man, he was made Bishop Nicholas of Nyra and was known throughout the land for his generosity to those people in need and especially for his kindness and love for all children. On December 6th in the year 343, Nicholas was granted sainthood upon his death and named Saint Nicholas. The day he became a saint is the day many children celebrate and know as Saint Nicholas Day. The spirit of Saint Nicholas has been felt by many, especially at Christmastime. This is a time of year when people give more freely to others and open their hearts to others with kindness. Many people credit the spirit of Saint Nicholas for this magical feeling. So you see, Santa Claus was a very real and very generous man. Just because he passed away so many years ago doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. He existed and his spirit will always live on and on. And you can always believe in him.

I believe.

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays.

Leslie

Christmas is a time for looking backwards.

me with snowmanIt’s at this time of year that I look back at the Christmases when I was a child and remember how the house I grew up in smelled of toasted hazelnuts, gingerbread, incense, and fresh pine. Many years later, I can still move in my mind from room to room with ease, seeing the countless ways my mother transformed our home into a wonderland of traditions I strive to carry on.

Here is a glimpse at my childhood Christmases.

Each year, two weeks before Christmas, my mother filled a vase with pine branches she clipped in the woods surrounding our home. She decorated these fragrant, bowing branches with straw stars she brought with her from Germany. On our walls my mother hung intricate stars made from accordian-pleated, gold paper she hand-cut with tiny scissors. smokemenA table set with a collection of smoke men. A ring of brass angels circled a flickering candle as they rang tiny bells on a stand placed on our piano. The memory of the outing I went on as a child with my sister and father to a farm to cut our tree returns with greater warmth than the temperature of that bone-chilling day. I can still see the other families seated around us on the tractor-pulled hay ride to the field of trees…all of us singing carols as our breaths froze like puffy clouds before our rosy faces. Returning home to my mother’s warm hugs and tasty lunch she cooked while we were away. The anticipation of decorating our tree, followed closely by the unacceptable length of time we needed to wait for the branches to come down before we could decorate. Opening boxes of carefully wrapped ornaments, choosing which branches could support the heaviest ornaments, and which branches would display the oldest and dearest ornaments. Retrieving wrapped presents from hiding places to set beneath our lit tree. The woodsy smell and sweet crackling of logs my father burned in the fireplace. Christmas music wrapped around us as my mother joyfully played and sang German carols at the piano. SantaThe excitement of wearing a special dress my aunt sewed for me. Admiring the lit tree from my bedroom door while wondering which presents were for me. Wondering if the Barbie Camper I hinted fifteen times for was one of the gifts I could see. The doorbell ringing and my aunt and uncle arriving at our house for our celebration. The shrimp cocktail we ate with the tangy horseradish sauce before our meal of roast lamb and baked potatoes. The well-loved music of The Nutcracker Suite playing. And so much more.

Today, years later, my parents both sadly gone, I try to recreate my fondest memories so one day they will become my daughter’s fondest memories, too. (With the exception of the Barbie camper which I never did receive.)

peace doveTo all of you, I wish you peace and happiness this holiday season, warm memories you will cherish, the best of times spent with the ones you love, a delicious meal cooked to perfection, and much joy in the new year.

Love to you all,

Leslie