Nia Sylva | Thursday, December 5, 2019
I believed in Santa until the fifth grade. Well, “believe” may be a bit too strong of a word. I knew the implausibility of it all. How could one sleigh hold every child’s presents or fly quickly enough to get all the gifts delivered in time? And what did Santa do when he got to a house that had no chimney? Did the unlucky kids inside chimneyless houses get nothing?
While I grappled internally with these “disturbing” questions, I did my best to banish them from my mind. If Santa IS real, I figured, doubting him would surely land me on his naughty list. But there was another reason that I struggled so valiantly to hold on to my belief.
On some level, I think, I worried that, when the myth of Santa slipped through my fingers, the magic of gift-giving would disappear with it. My mom always said that “you have to believe to receive,” and I definitely didn’t want that gravy train to end. But I wasn’t so much concerned with the gifts themselves as I was with the excitement and the mystery that accompanied them. I liked imagining a team of elves wrapping my family’s gifts, listening for the pitter-patter of reindeer hooves on the roof as I drifted off to sleep and racing downstairs to see if the cookies we left on the kitchen table had been eaten. What would replace those joyful images once they were gone?
I was wrong to worry. After a particularly persistent classmate finally forced me to abandon my “babyish” belief, I discovered another side of the gift-giving process. My eyes were first opened when my mom brought me with her to buy presents for a family in need. I was initially skeptical (buying gifts for other kids is hardly an immature 10-year-old’s dream), but I soon started to picture these kids waking up to gifts under their tree — all because of us. And as we pushed the cart from aisle to aisle, I began to feel a little bit like Santa.
Before I knew it, I was “playing” Santa at home, too. I started collecting intel for my mom, letting her know what my younger siblings wanted and helping her pick out gifts. Next, I trained myself to be a master gift-wrapper: I sat in the laundry room for hours learning the intricacies of envelope-folding and proper tape technique.
By the time my first Christmas as a non-believer arrived, I had forgotten to mourn my newfound jadedness. Instead, I was enthralled by the joy on everyone’s faces when they opened the gifts I had chosen and wrapped for them. I got to feel partially responsible for that joy; I got to lean back on the couch, plate of cookies in hand and “be Santa.”
I think that’s the real magic of the myth. It certainly isn’t in receiving gifts that came from “Santa’s workshop,” or even in believing that he exists. Only when we take on his jolly persona ourselves — when we “become” Santa for someone else — do we truly apply the selfless spirit of Christmas to what’s otherwise just a story about a man in a red suit with a beard.
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The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.