Tis the seasons for moms to make magic! It has long been my favorite time of year to be a mom as I revel in the privilege of being the magic maker; the one who directs their eyes towards the heavens and into the depth of mysterious realities inherent in the faith we share together. I witness their wonder, their hopeful vulnerability to believe in things they cannot see. I notice even the most irreverent of small toddlers compelled to pause at the sight of lights that dance and sparkle. They are eager to await all the goodness that is to come from the birth of Jesus trusting fully in that tremendous Santa Claus, not just for what he will bring, but for how he goes to such great lengths for the whole world to throw a birthday celebration for his special baby King. As I pursue the richness of myth and mystery, of Santa and sleighs and reindeer and elves, I continually wonder if I am doing it right; If I am properly walking that fine line that teeters its steps towards truth and honesty without bursting the beauty of childhood belief. As my children grow older, and a bit more intellectually mature, I want to make sure our celebration of Christmas matures too, but without losing its magical momentum.
The thing is, I am a 32 year old woman who is cynical about many things, but I still fully believe in Santa Claus. How important a figure he is to rely on! To hope in the generosity of someone who cares so much for you, that he would do nearly anything to keep you safe, happy, and focused on the freedom inherent in putting God first! The story of St. Nicholas is one that continues to shape me. He was a young man, who inherited wealth upon the death of his parents. He saw his neighbors being sold into slavery because of their poverty. In his despair and grief, he realized still that he could do something about it, and so he did. He dropped gold through the chimney, into their stockings, and he disappeared into the night. He became a Bishop (a Good one!) and actually travelled in a sleigh. Through his sainthood, we get the real Santa Claus. Sure, modern cultures have dismantled the true depth and point of his life. His narrative has been abused and his face warped into the commercial tagline of a consumerism that is vicious and debilitating. But not all is lost! Magic making is still very much possible- even if your kids begin to catch on to how much “helping” we parents actually do.
I say all this mostly because of what my mother has taught me. You see, she has loved St. Nicholas so completely through out her life, that without a doubt in my mind, I know that he is working through her. To put it simply, there is no other way to explain the mysterious effectiveness of the stunts that she pulls. She also skillfully manages to take advantage of the fact that no matter what she does, you can’t get mad at Santa Claus. It is not in the type of gifts that she gives, in their expense or in their luxury (although truth be told those are usually pretty awesome). It is the intangible way she channels generosity to take flight. It is that very special manner in which her December tactics will frustrate me to the point of boiling. It is only later that I find she was creating something magnificent all along. It is me realizing that the hidden magic in the day she showed up unannounced with presents in one hand, suckers in another, and a very large moving truck parked behind her that began ever so quickly to unload dozens of uniformed boxes wrapped in red before I could say, “Can I change out of my pajamas first?” That was the day she was gifting me her prize antique Duncan Royale Santa Claus collection (valued now in the $$$$$), which proved to me once and for all that the story of St. Nicholas ought to be shouted from the rooftops. Upon opening each one of the world’s depictions of Santa, was a chance to encounter my childhood staring back at me. I remembered hot June nights standing outside of the Cape May Christmas store, wanting desperately for her to hurry up so I could have ice cream. She continued to barter relentlessly with the store manager, reminding me to be patient because “she was working for Saint Nicholas.” She worked for years to buy those Santa Clauses, to find them, to negotiate their prices, to display them proudly, and it was a process that particularly annoyed me. But then, for no good reason at all, upon no good merit whatsoever, despite many good reasons why she ought to keep them or give them to someone much more deserving, she up and gave them to me. I didn’t even know that I wanted them. That I would be so mesmerized by their history, their legends of renegade generosity across different lands and cultures. Even in all of the difference, they were all in search of the same goodness of God. That’s the thing about Santa Claus, he gives us the gifts that anticipate our needs, that give purpose to our mission, that help us focus on all the good that God put in us, no matter how badly we behaved. And sometimes, he makes us wait a little longer to unwrap the true essence and power inherent in the gift. But, no matter how dazzling the material of the present is, it is the intangible that sticks with us, that gut memory that continues to say “you are loved beyond measure, worthy of greatness, designed to be good.”
On the very same day when those poor movers walked with such deliberate speed and intentional direction as if they had been warned not to make eye contact or respond to my pleas, and when, I still in my PJs, chased them to our basement storage room trying to figure out what lay beneath all that red wrapping paper, I came back upstairs to catch the last glimpse of Mammy’s white car driving quickly up my driveway and out of sight until her next unexpected visit. Just as I began to sigh in relief at no more surprises for the day, I turned to notice the giant red velvet sleigh sitting smack dab in the middle of my entryway. In it were five little kids now chasing their sucker with a candy cane, singing Jingle Bells on its plush seat. They dashed and danced towards that magical place where children are loved purely and pursued with great fervor, that to me could only be heaven, but I’ll settle for the North Pole. In that moment, and through that completely absurd antique, she was making a magic maker out of me, and my kids were pretty darn thankful. While I’ll never be quite as good, thanks to her, I’m learning; and I own a very large replica of Santa’s preferred method of transportation to prove it.
This year, as I noticed my newly turned 9 year old not as jazzed up by the traditions that usually made him squeal, I took my concern to Santa himself. I wondered if maybe my adult belief is more of a fluke than anything else and prepared myself to accept that Christmas might not be the same for him anymore. Good ol’ Saint Nick acknowledged my desire not to have a scrooge on my hands, and helped me put a little extra magic in my minivan. Together as a family, we loaded it up with treat bags and cold coins, and all before bedtime, we spread some St. Nick treats for a few in need and a few that we just plain love. It was the shift that my family needed, a chance to let them make a little magic of their own for others whom they love. Although the night before the feast of St. Nicholas might be better known as “the night mom taught us how to throw candy at front doors and we learned how to ding dong ditch,” I’d like to hope that they might remember the magic they felt when doing something so perfectly preposterous, but completely and totally generous for no particular reason at all. And if I judge the effectiveness of our Toyota Sienna sleigh ride by the sound of infectious laughter from my oldest kids sourced from the depth of their bellies, I think it was pretty successful.
We don’t really deserve to find treats in our shoes or presents under the tree, but we get them anyway, simply because we are loved. If we can bypass the materialism, and forgo the stress of checking off our lists and reflecting on the true needs of those we love, the gifts of Christmas can point us towards the heart of our faith, the nonsensical reality that God makes something, someone, out of nothing for no particular reason other than: He loves.
This year, in particular, our Church needs the joy and the hope of a happy Christmas, a reminder that purity still exists, a dependence on the great Saints who, like St. Nicholas, stand for truth no matter the cost. And we, as adults, have a special opportunity to focus our families on that sweet baby boy who gives us everything. As we encounter the weeks when we will somehow pull off Christmas out of what feels like nothing, let us remember that there is plenty of heavenly help wanting to give us assistance. And I think maybe it is in depending on the supernatural that all the magic is really made to happen, both in our hearts and under our trees too.
To all you magic makers! Enjoy the season.