Christopher and I have been debating the merits of the concept of Santa Claus. Out of parental protectiveness, Christopher is kind of anti-Santa. In fact, he wonders if he should apologize to his 11 year old daughter for all the years of “deception” – not out of negativity, but because he feels guilty that she got let down. I urged him not to, because thinking back that’s not at all what I would have wanted when I was 11 – it would have been uncomfortable and depressing for me. Why is that? One memory sticks out.
When I was a pretty tiny kid – definitely before 1st grade – my Mom and I were shopping in JCPenny’s one day (remember when there was no Target? Not even a Wal-Mart?) and I came across an aisle display of giant stuffed tigers. Not including the tail, they were probably a yard long. I remember standing in the aisle leaning into the bin, arms around one, face smushed into him. And I just stood there like that until my mom pulled me away. And then Christmas morning Santa brought me one and I was so overwhelmed with joy. I also remember thinking that I had the best Mom ever because she must have told Santa to get this exact tiger at JCPenny’s instead of one from his workshop.
We named the new family member Hobbes, from the comic strip, “Calvin and Hobbes.” To say he was loved for a long time is an understatement. I didn’t bring him to college, but I’m sure it was considered. Recently at my parents’ house, my niece was playing with that same tiger (now 26 years old, I figure!) and I pointed out Hobbes to Christopher saying, “This is who I used to sleep with.”
As I matured through childhood, I remember processing that it was in fact my parents who bought me Hobbes but instead of feeling deception, I felt (and still feel) such love for my parents that they noticed my extreme attachment in the store, returned another time without me, bought it, and then gave Santa all the credit. The memory of that kindness defines Christmas magic for me, even though the myth of Santa slowly faded over time. As a kid, an adult bluntly referring to Santa as a “deception” would have been like someone coming into a room lit perfectly dim by candles and then hitting a switch to turn on glaring overhead fluorescent lights. Too jarring.
I’m willing to bet that in the moments before my death, what will flash into my head will be the combined memory of little me standing in an aisle of JCPenny’s, eyes closed, head buried in a bin of tigers and then finding one wrapped under the tree on Christmas morning. That’s the magic of a parents’ love and attention. What a very fortunate (and in the spirit of Jimmy Stewart – rich) little girl I was.