I took my 4-year-old twin grandsons to Target recently.
"Look," Luke cried out, pointing to the decorations. "They're havin' a party!" And indeed they were, with plenty of shiny baubles and holiday trimmings to help remind grown-ups to spend lots of money.
To the kids, however, it was all magical. On a whim, I asked Max if he thought Santa went to church. Without hesitation, he looked at me and said, "No, he just makes toys."
I'm sure they think baby Jesus always lives in a manger that is likely next to the North Pole and possibly that Jesus turns into a baby at Christmas and is a grown-up the rest of the year. The important thing is it all makes sense to them.
Santa is always a revered character afar but can be scary to kids up close. The funniest Christmas card I ever saw was one from friends whose children were surrounding Santa with their youngest on his lap, screaming for his life.
We have a picture of our daughter when she was just 3 with Grit sitting on Santa's knee and Melissa on his lap. It is a charming picture, Dad helping his daughter be brave, but if Santa scares kids up close why even bother?
"Children of all ages have a deep desire to believe in a great, benevolent and generous gift-giver who rewards the good," says writer Sarah Ban Breathnach. "Christmas allows the child slumbering in each of our souls the chance to be reborn every year, awakening a sense of joy and wonder."
When we lived in Connecticut, a colleague at Greenwich High School shared one of her holiday memories with me. They were Jewish, but her father encouraged them to believe in Santa Claus. He saw the wonder of childhood where belief in the tooth fairy and leprechauns and fairy tales allowed his children to then build to a higher level of faith in God.
Luci Scott wrote an article for the Arizona Republic about a "Sensitive Santa" therapist John Pettingill, who likes to meet autistic children in a quiet, nonthreatening environment. These children would never brave the trauma of bright lights and crowds at a shopping mall.
The rewards for this effort can be touching. Not only does the child get a picture with Santa, but sometimes special things happen.
A young boy named Reese registered trepidation and "began jumping up and down, not out of joy but anxiety.
" 'Do you want to sing a song, Reese?' Santa asked as he launched into 'Jingle Bells.' But Reese kept his distance, coming close enough to get a soft teddy bear."
A picture was taken.
"As they prepared to leave, his mother, Michele, showed the photo to Reece, who said, 'Santa.'
Michele was shocked. "He said 'Santa!' For a kid that doesn't speak, that's awesome."
Right there is the core of Christmas, a belief that anything is possible.
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