By Russell Allison
There isn’t greater fun in the cycle of life than reaping the benefits of handing down the mythology of Santa Claus to your kids and living vicariously through their excitement and joy and remembering your own when you were their age. There is no generation gap at this time of year, only a different perspective depending on whether you are young or old.
My earliest memory of Christmas dates back to when I was five years old. I think that is the age when a child can fully grasp the concept of reindeer and sleigh coming in for a landing on the roof while Santa holds the reigns. As the holiday grew near, I could see Santa Claus in my mind’s eye emerging from the fireplace with a huge burlap bag full of toys. But this was imagination.
This is when mothers, like mine did, come up with the next best thing to having their children meet Santa Claus in person. She had a ruse to bridge the imagination to reality. With Mom’s help, I left out cookies and milk for Santa Claus on a table next to the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.
The next morning, I came downstairs full of intrigue with my mother leading the way. When we entered the living room, she brought me directly over to the TV dinner tray with half eaten cookies and an empty glass of milk. This was empirical evidence that Santa Claus was a real person who lived, breathed and put his pants on one leg at a time like anyone else.
I am 54 years old now, and at this time of year I am still taken back to that tray of cookie crumbs and traces of milk in an empty glass. That single memory, as clear as a photograph and the excitement to match, is just as vivid today as it was half a century ago. After New Year’s Day, the memory is safely tucked away like the Christmas tree lights and ornaments that go back into a box until the next holiday cycle the following year.
When parents attempt to have their five-year-old kids meet Santa in person, it doesn’t work. The kids don’t stop believing in the real deal, they just know a phony when they see one. In my case, there was a Santa Claus at my parent’s church for a holiday function. As I sat on his lap, I could tell his beard was artificial, made of white cotton rather than actual hair. I was nobody’s fool. I recognized an imposter when I saw one and proclaimed the Santa as a fake softly under my breath to my parents.
My parents got around this problem by explaining to me that, while he could fly around the world in one night delivering presents, Santa Claus could not be everywhere at the same time. Only God could do that. The chubby old men that I saw around town were Santa’s helpers, like the Elves at the North Pole and were full of Christmas Magic.
On Christmas morning, my father said that I slept through the noise as reindeer hooves clattered, landing on the roof. I wished so much that I could have been awake to hear them and the sound of jingling bells on Santa Claus’s sleigh. For good measure, Dad said that he fed carrots to the reindeer. Yes, Santa Claus was real!
Those cookies and milk proved it.