WARNING! The following article contains spoilers regarding the existence of a certain red suit-wearing, cookie-eating, white-bearded old man.
I’m a smart ass know-it-all who loves answers. Mysteries are particularly tantalising because they promise the sweet discovery of answers if I can just figure out a way to solve them. The first mystery I ever tackled involved a certain old Saint Nick and presents. After benefiting from years and years of generous Christmas bounties, I felt compelled to meet the jolly old man so as to thank him and beg him to tell me stories about his travels. So, I devised a clever plan to wake up every half hour between midnight and 3 to check the presence of presents to determine the exact time in which he arrived at our house, so I could know when to be awake for his arrival next year.
Lo and behold, my clever plan worked better than I had expected. I couldn’t stifle my excitement as I tiptoed down the corridor towards the tree, where I could clearly hear the sound of shuffling footsteps and crinkling wrapping paper. Peeking around the corner, I blinked my eyes in denial as the tired bodies of my parents bent beneath the tree to arrange the big and little boxes in colourful arrays. I mean, I had heard nasty rumours from icky kids in class that Santa wasn’t real, but I didn’t believe it until I stared at the evidence before me. A few years later, I would sit in my mother’s closet, clutching tubes of festive wrapping paper, and watching as my baby sister figured out that our parents must be Santa because our gifts were clearly wrapped in the reindeers and penguins I held in my hands. It’s a somber moment when your childhood illusions are shattered; it’s a turning point during which the glittery fairy dust in your eyes slowly clears away. Afterwards, you’re left to face the world as it really is: cold, harsh, and not even close to being a wish-granting, present-giving machine.
Now that you’re thoroughly depressed, I would argue that maybe a Christmas without Santa is not necessarily a bad thing. So there isn’t some guy who can magically give you everything you wish for – so what? Now you can properly thank the people who’ve put up with your 30-item long Christmas list and diligently eaten those sugar cookies you baked with love (and burnt edges). Without the pressure of expecting these presents to achieve magical proportions, we can appreciate the amount of effort put in to stretch limited resources and to creatively deliver goods that make us smile. Christmas can become less about what you get and more about what you already have.
I know I never really appreciated Christmas until it became the first time in 5 months that I saw my family; I didn’t care about whether presents were given or not. I just wanted to make pancakes with my mom, giggle and talk all night with my sister, beat my dad at pool, and decorate the same old tree we’ve had ever since I existed. I want to bundle up and go for a walk around town to see all the different Christmas decorations and festive lights so that in their muted glow, I can feel the warmth of Christmas love. The magic of the holidays doesn’t come from talking reindeers or dancing elves; it comes from family traditions and Christmas stories told around the fireplace. It’s mom’s secret apple pie recipe (yes, I’m American so no mince pies, sorry) and dad’s hand-carved angel at the top of the tree. As the years go by and you end up spending Christmas in an office or in your new apartment down in Queens, the lack of Santa makes you work and plan for the things that you want. It forces you to be your own Santa and enforces the important life lesson that anything worth having is worth working for. We can’t always live with childish fantasies that something magical will come along to fix our problems. We have to stop hiding under duvets and behind wishful thinking – we just have to face our fears and tackle our issues head-on. It might not be easy and we don’t always win, but there’s something satisfying in the flushed excitement of finally getting what we want because we deserve it and not because someone handed it to us with a nice, neat bow on top.
So it’s okay if, in the end, there is no old man with a bag of toys watching us when we sleep (creepy, if you actually think about it). It’s okay because instead we have friends and family to be thankful for and for whom we can express our gratitude through gifts and words. We can’t rely on Santa to bring us everything we’ve ever wanted and a pony on top of that, but we can push ourselves to fulfil as many dreams and grant as many wishes as we possibly can. At the end of the day, Christmas is not about presents. It’s about the joy that comes with the busy bustle of cooking Christmas dinner or the peace of a room that glows with Christmas lights and winking tinsel. Even though I know Santa isn’t coming, I still wake up every Christmas at 2:30am to sit in front of the Christmas tree and shake the little boxes or rattle the lumpy-looking stockings. I do it to give myself a minute to appreciate life, its gifts, and the real people who make it all possible.
*The content of Perspective articles, as with all articles posted on the Tribe, reflects solely the views of the authors. The opinions expressed are not those of the Tribe as a publication or necessarily those of any other member of the editorial and/or writing staff*