I remember the moment as if it were yesterday…
My daughter, Rachel, had just begun the 3rd grade at St. Michael’s School in Olympia, WA. With less than a week of classes under her belt, the new school year seemed off to a great start. (A relief for most parents no matter what their child’s age.)
Rachel had gone to bed a little earlier this particular Thursday evening; I was straightening up the kitchen; my husband, Bob, was putting some finishing touches on one of his writing assignments.
Suddenly I heard my daughter’s voice in her daddy’s office. He was notoriously softer-hearted and more malleable when it came to stretching the house rules. I started toward the hall wondering which stall technique would succeed tonight. When I reached the doorway and peered in, I saw my daughter standing close to the desk with a queer look on her face, one I couldn’t identify. Then Daddy explained, “Rachel says she knows Santa Claus isn’t real. Carrie told her at school today.”
Now I could easily interpret my daughter’s expression: a painful mix of bewilderment, anger and fear. I tried my best to sound authentically shocked. “What’s this?” I responded.
“Santa Claus is a myth, Mom.” Rachel answered gravely. “Carrie’s mom told her all about it.”
At that instant, I think I could have strangled that woman! How could she have revealed such a thing?! And how could her daughter have shattered one of my daughter’s greatest sources of joy, magic and wonderment?
For more seconds than I wished, I was speechless. I knew Rachel was looking to me for some contradiction, some ray of hope. I could feel Bob’s eyes on me as well. But I was dumbfounded. What could I say to this still tender innocent before me who would turn nine just a week before Christmas? What words could explain the poem that St. Nick (our name for Santa) always left on her pillow in the wee hours of Christmas morning while she slept… (the poem that was slipped into a velvet pouch and included the wooden figure of the Baby Jesus)? Or the “magic dust” on the pouch and down the hall in a trail that led to the manger scene? (Rachel always placed the Holy Infant in his cradle before running to her stocking and the presents under the tree.) Or the cookie crumbs left by St. Nick himself on the holly- adorned dish dutifully placed under the stockings? Or the collective thank you note from the reindeer? (Yes, they got special cookies as well.) The precious, magical moments went on and on… As my eyes remained locked on Rachel’s, I suddenly became resentful of our family’s emphasis on always telling the truth. Isn’t that what my logical, literal daughter must be thinking now, I surmised, that her parents had deliberately and repeatedly lied to her?! Would she ever be able to trust us again now that our methodical and elaborate deceptions had been exposed?
From somewhere deep within myself, and without much forethought, I stepped close and finally spoke.
“Darling, Santa Claus—St. Nick—like Christmas, is a gift—a gift that many of us receive when we’re small. It’s a gift that grown-ups, especially parents, give to their children… A child accepts and enjoys that gift for a long time and then, one day, puts it aside for a while, only to embrace it again when they’re older and they offer it to their own children. St. Nick, and everything that goes with him: the reindeer, the North Pole, the presents…they all represent love and generosity and unselfishness; they all help us better understand the story of God’s love for the world. And that love and all those wonderful feelings are always with us, Rachel; they can never die.”
In one natural, fluid motion, the three of us instinctively came together in an extended embrace. I think we all needed that comfort and reassurance. Rachel’s body relaxed into that cocoon as her tears continued to release some of the pain of her broken heart.
There was definitely a period of disappointment and weariness leading up to Christmas that winter. During Rachel’s remaining years under our roof, her focus gradually shifted to other satisfying holiday traditions; her awareness of developing maturity seemed at times an effective motivator. Christmas would never be the same, yet, in more grown-up ways, it would still be cherished.
To say my daughter’s transition into Christmas as a literal adult has been easy would be a lie. Within a painfully compressed period of time, our original family configuration has sustained significant, unforeseen changes: Divorce, remarriage, multiple moves and the deaths of her beloved dad, first dog and both maternal grandparents have shrouded this once magical, celebratory time of year with periods of lethargy and depression. As a mother, daughter and grief recovery specialist, I’ve tried to help Rachel process this time in restorative ways: first by acknowledging her profound losses and resulting grief, then by responding with generous self-compassion and tenderness. I’ve encouraged her to create other ways of infusing meaning, magic and joy into the holiday season, much of the time by focusing on bringing those gifts to others, including two new beloved dogs… to try to recall her wonderful memories with gratitude as a way of honoring the legacy of all those dear ones no longer physically here. I think she’s doing an admirable job.
It would also be a lie to claim my own grieving over significant losses doesn’t continue to dull some of the sparkle of this season. Yet gradually over the decades, I’ve been better able to follow my own advice: I’m extra tender and patient with my sadness… I’m feeling less burdened by societal pressure, gross merchandizing and religious traditions that no longer resonate; I’m more inspired by Mother Nature’s wonders and the opportunities to help create a little magic for step-grandchildren and grand-doggies. Like my Rachel, I’m learning, year by year, to focus primarily on my blessings, on what I can control, influence and heartily embrace during the holiday season. This Christmas 2020, it feels especially important to do so.
And that is my wish for you, dear Reader: that, as best you can, you might hold in awareness, gratitude and compassion the totality of this time in your own life: the joy of Christmases past and the abundance of gifts surrounding you now, as well as the painful memories and emotions. For everything within this season (as life in general) ultimately offers blessings and lessons. Maybe choosing to see that truth with the trusting eyes of an eternal child is what allows the magic of Christmas to last forever.
May I, we & all beings, choose to embrace all the gifts of this holiday season.
Deb Langhans has worked in the wellness field as a coach/counselor, writer & speaker for over 25 years. She currently owns & operates Journeys to Healing on San Juan Island where she offers "wholistic" life coaching, mindfulness & grief recovery coaching, reflexology, Inner Journey Collage© & a developing line of products designed to encourage healthy habits.
Most services are available in Deb's studio or via phone or Zoom. For more information or scheduling, please go to www.journeystohealing.com (website). email@example.com (email), or 360.317.4526 (texts preferred).