Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Is For Kids

I'm not saying that it's something you outgrow -- as when some children boldly exclaim that they are too "old" for certain things, be it picture books, training wheels, or video games in which cuddly characters aren't mowing down everything in sight with a chain gun -- but ask any parent who's spent hours searching for the Hot Toy Of That Particular Year, and they'll tell you the same thing.

Adults sit on Santa's lap as a joke, or because they're drunk, or because of some deep-seated creepy fetish which I would rather not understand, so please, there's no need to fill me in.  Honestly.

Grownups are generally not wide-eyed and bushy-tailed at 4:30 in the morning on Christmas.  But the kids certainly are.  Those same kids would howl with disapproval at being awoken at such an hour on a school day -- and those parents who are reading this and thinking what a great moment of revenge that would be, think it through.  Kids remember that kind of stuff, and one day grandma or grandpa may fall down the stairs in their wheelchair.  It happens all the time.  They call them "accidents".

I'm forty-one years old, and Christmas is one of my favorite holidays.  I love going home to see my family.  I love the cold and the snow (which I desperately need -- for me, Christmas in California is no bueno.  Santa in shorts?  Palm tress with lights?  No thanks).  But one of the things I love most is the look on my nephews' faces during Christmas.  And that look belongs to those who still believe in magic.

Spoiler alert.

Santa's not real.

I know -- shocking.  But you know what?  Now you may shrug it off, but try and think back to that moment that you found out THE TRUTH.  No Santa.  No reindeer.  All of it just, what?

A lie?

Technically, yes -- it's a lie.

But it's a great one.  And I also think a defining one.

When I was growing up, a woman who was a friend of my parents thought it best to not lie to her daughter, a la Maureen O'Hara in 'Miracle on 34th Street'.  Never.  Ever.

I try not imagine the child's reaction when she inevitably asked, "Mommy, where do babies come from?".  That whole stork and cabbage patch thing is probably more preferable to the young mind than the description of the all-too-brief, sweaty, and sticky beginning; followed by the screaming, bloody, even more sticky, and perineum-tearing finale nine months later reality (I hope she saved up for the therapy).

And as a result, there was no Santa Claus.

Now I think that's lame.  More than that -- I think it's just mean.  Why would you deny a child the magic of it all.  Is it fucking hurting anybody?  No, it's not.  And the rationalization that lying to them in the first place is what's actually hurting them is utter and complete bullshit.  It denies a child the thing which defines them most: their childhood.

When the truth of Santa lands, in a way, childhood is officially packing its bags and stepping out the door.  It's part of magic and make-believe, and as adults we know they're not real.  And no, not in the "we've forgotten what it's like to believe in magic, and if only a Will Ferrell elf could remind us" or anything like that.

I work in make-believe -- I believe in the magic of movie-making.

But I also know it's not real.  And that's okay.  I understand that it's pretend, but as much as I love it (and I really, REALLY do), I also know that it's fake.  In being an adult, I have seen what is behind the Wizard's curtain, but fortunately I can still suspend my disbelief.

When I was a kid, I wholeheartedly believed in Santa Claus.

Every Christmas Eve, we would go to my Uncle Bob's house.  When we were there, one of the local radio stations broke in on the Christmas music with "Santa Watch", where they were tracking Santa via radar.  Nowadays they have the online versions of it, with all the visual treats of where Santa is on a world map -- but there was something about that radio version, because the details existed completely in the mind's eye.

One particular year, one our way home I remember staring out the car window, trying to catch a glimpse of Santa's sleigh passing by the full moon.  If I remember correctly, I think I saw it.

And the night of every Christmas Eve, I had absolute proof that Santa was real.  I would wake up in the middle of the night, and hear him up on the roof!  And, remembering the "He sees you when you're sleeping/He knows when you're awake" refrain of 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town', I would instantly fall right back asleep.

Years later, I found out that what I heard was actually my parents up in the attic, retrieving our gifts from where they had been hidden.  I think that's pretty cool.  I never said that the glimpse behind the curtain couldn't be fun.

There was just something about the Christmas season when I was a kid.  Somehow, the month of December seemed to take forever to get through.  Every day we would open yet another window on the Advent Calendar, counting down, getting closer and closer to the day that we could open 'December 24th'.

On Christmas morning, my sister and I would have to wait at the top of the stairs that led down to our finished basement while our parents first went down to where the tree and, presumably, the presents were.

When they let us, my sister and I would race down the stairs and run toward the tree.  I remember the blinding light from the lamp on top of the Super 8 camera my dad was recording the moment on, and the colored lights of the Christmas tree.  And there would be the gifts from Santa, with handwritten notes by the big guy himself, telling us how proud he was of us for being so good that year.  For some reason, my sister and I never recognized our mother's handwriting, even though it was pretty obvious.  Kinda like Superman -- with glasses, good old Clark Kent; without, hey it's Superman!

In a way, I miss those Chistmases (Is that even a word?  I don't know) of my youth.  They were so much fun.

But they still are.

Every Christmas, I go home to Chicago.  And every Christmas morning, my nephews wake me up when it's still dark outside -- "Comeoneuncleseanit'schristmasmorninggetupgetupthere arepresentspresentsPRESENTS!!!"

My sister hands my half-awake self a video camera, and I film the event.  The boys opening their presents, excited beyond belief.  If we're lucky, it's snowing right outside the window.

And it is always amazing.

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