Life was hard, and my family had no concerns for the holidays; not out of any reason, or poverty as you might think, but it was a frivolity built on kindness - and they had no room for that in their hearts. But as was their infinate cruelty, they did frequently tell us the Santa Claus mythos. Joyfully sharing with my sisters and I memories of Christmas mornings spent discovering their brightly wrapped packages under a tree, delivered by a jolly man in a red winter suit.
Many a Christmas my little self rushed out of bed early, red curls tangled by sleep, rushing out to the livingroom to find nothing for me.
No tree had appeared.
No twinkling lights.
I began the practice when my sisters were still small of spending the weeks leading up to the holiday saving or making them meager little baubles which I would lovingly fold into colorful Sunday newspaper comics I salvaged from the nearby dump. I would creep out in the the night and find a small cedar to cut and bring into their bedroom while they slept. A cardboard star covered in foil, some folded paper ornaments, and a crocheted doll or two and the scene was set to give them a small measure of wonder.
They never asked why Santa didn't bring anything for me.
Perhaps they knew that it was me all along...
Oftentimes this practice would result in some kind of disipline, but largely it was unnoticed enough that my little trappings could disappear in the night just as they appeared, leaving behind only the gifts they had found. Nothing had permanence, and there was so little joy, but I wanted them to have something that I could not find for myself.
One particular Christmas my parents decided to indulge the request of a relative and let us ride along with his children to see the lights in town... I was aroud 9 if my best guess is accurate, and it was such an experience. My little sisters, 6, and 2, respectively, stared in wonderment at the twinkling lights. (Of course we'd seen them before, but never such a dedicated time to gaze at them in the crisp winter air) There was hot chocolate given to us, and we were taken with our cousins to make a visit to Santa Claus. I was nervous, I remember feeling that way. I thought maybe he didn't know about us, and that this would change everything. I spent those last few moments fearfully wondering what to say.
As I made my way to the kindly man in the big chair to be hefted onto his lap, I finally decided. He asked the question to end all questions... "What would you like for Christmas?" And in my heart, a God was finally seeing me - now those memories could be my own, I would awake to magic. I leaned in and whispered to him that I wanted to be happy - that I wanted everything to be okay, and for my family to have Christmas. He told me that there is always happiness on Christmas, and asked if I wanted a toy. I may have muttered something about a Barbie like my cousin; he gave me a candy cane, and we moved on with our night.
I was over the moon however. He would come at last! I would awake to the tree, to the joy that I saw in my sisters eyes when she found those baubles wrapped in paper, I would get hugs from my parents and there would be hot chocolate and smiles... and maybe, just maybe, even that pretty doll that I asked for.
Christmas morning came, one way or another, just like it always did. I ticked away the days impatiently, I was extra good, I was buzzing with excitement. We would be a real family after this, there would be magic. But on Christmas morning... there was no joy. No tree. No twinkling lights. No packages wrapped brightly. My father, in his chair as always, yelling for his breakfast while my mother barked orders to my sister and I. I recall timidly asking my father why Santa didn't come, and he replied:
Because he doesn't come to see bad kids.
I was crushed. I asked for magic and there was none. But now - I saw my error. I relied on someone else to do what I could have done, and for the first time, I saw tears well up in the eyes of my sister on Christmas morning. I had taken the magic from her too by being a fool. Never again did I rely on Santa to bring them magic, It was okay if I was sad, as long as they had something to touch and hold. How were my parents children that Santa visited, but not us? I was confused, and angry. I became harder, my shell became tougher. I would give them happiness, but I did not need it.
In the years to come, I grew up. Had a child of my own. Understood what Santa Claus was, truly. I looked back on my naieve wish with tenderness, and my heart broke for the little girl who didn't understand. I read once that as you truly grow up you see that there was still "something to the 'Christmas Spirit.' Sure, perhaps there wasn't a magic guy with a flying sleigh, etcetera, but there was an aspect of the human experience, a generosity, that we could sensibly personify as the chubby fellow in red. Santa didn't live at the North Pole, but in the human heart." Humans personifying a mythical role. Each becoming here and there the avatar of the Christmas Spirit.
I now can see the sacred gift I gave my sisters, and then later my own daughter, by taking on that role even though I never found it formyself. To bring a spirit into your heart and to act out its will is no small thing, and I wish I could go back in time and tell that little girl how much magic she made in the world.
So yes Lupita, there is a Claus. Whether dead or alive, literal or false, or even called by another name; we can hold that magic in our own heart and use it to better the world for another - and truly, that is the meaning of Christmas.
Quoted portion from Tom Swiss, the Zen Pagan.