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THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS by Ray Flynt
I’ll be turning forty this year—on Christmas day—and that prospect has been messing with my mind. My son, Luke, turns nine the day before Christmas. No, he wasn’t named after the Gospel. My wife liked TV actor Luke Perry, so that’s who he’s named after.
Me? I’m Brian. First names only, please. My friends don’t realize what a deep thinker I can be. No use changing their opinion now.
A lot of people think puberty has the biggest impact on their life, well, maybe except for reaching forty. But my biggest shock came when I was nine. Luke will soon be nine. Oh, right, I mentioned that. But you see, that’s what’s had me thinking lately. Along with Christmas coming and our birthdays being so close.
I was nine when I realized there was no Santa Claus. Actually, it seems I was one of the few kids who had to be told there was no Santa. I was slow on the uptake…another reason to leave my last name out of this. Confession is good for the soul, right? Especially if it’s anonymous.
My parents broke the news to me two weeks before Christmas. I thought somebody had died. I mean, they had the same grave expressions on their faces as when they told me a few months earlier that grandma had passed.
What!?! I was in shock.
I’d earned a black eye on the playground six months earlier defending Santa’s existence against my disbelieving friend Tommy. (He still hasn’t apologized for giving me the black eye, and I’m not about to concede he was right all along.)
I had lived my entire life—to that point—thinking that a chubby guy in a red suit delivered presents to everyone on Christmas day. Because Santa knew it was my birthday, I even got an extra present from him.
Of course, I questioned the part about him coming down the chimney. I wasn’t totally dumb. But my point being that I’d bought into the whole concept of getting presents for being a good kid. After all, “He knows if you’ve been bad or good…”
Actually, somebody had died the day my parents broke the news: Santa.
I was traumatized.
Three months later, like a tsunami following an earthquake, my mother confirmed, no Easter bunny. What!?!
And what alternate view of life (version 2.0) had they offered me after Santa’s demise? “It’s better to give than to receive.” Hard for a nine-year-old to swallow.
There I was, a cynic at age nine. My very existence had been shaken to the core. I questioned everything. What d’ya mean Peter Pan needs wires to fly? The stork doesn’t bring babies? (Although their alternate explanation of how it really worked sounded even more fantastic.) Broccoli’s good for you? (I threw that in to see if you were still paying attention.)
I even questioned church.
If sleighs couldn’t fly with the aid of reindeer, or bunnies deliver chocolate in baskets, how much harder was it for a pre-teen to believe that God sent a man to die for our sins, who woke from the dead, and then rose to heaven—without the aid of wires?
By the time puberty hit (Yeah, it was awesome, NOT.), “Why” had become my new favorite word.
I still went to church because, well…that’s what we did. I learned all the hymns. I listened too, when I wasn’t teasing my sister. I must have picked up a few things by osmosis, right?
Fast forward a decade. I’d stopped going to church and become one of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd.
I still celebrated Christmas: put up a tree; bought presents for my family and friends; tried to do nice things for others. My dad was a big believer in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That stuck with me, and I’ve tried to live my life according to that principle.
In my late 20’s I got married. My wife grew up with slightly different convictions, or as she described it: “Same church, different pew.” When I joined a large company, I found myself interacting with people raised in completely different churches. I discovered a few things—they all seemed to appreciate the Golden Rule (I studied further and learned that the same concept can be found in sacred writings of all the world’s religions.), and they respected the fact that I celebrated Christmas—even inquired about my plans.
Nine years ago, Luke joined our family. We started going to church together (to my wife’s familiar pew), for his benefit. We also taught him about Santa Claus. Each of these past eight years we’ve smiled and watched in wonderment as he opened the presents “Santa” brought.
Remember when all the - you know what - broke loose on the Internet after Starbucks took snowflakes off its holiday coffee cups? Did they even have snowflakes in Bethlehem 2000 years ago? That drove me to more deep thinking. The way I see it, there are two major celebrations in the Christian calendar, the birth of Christ (Christmas) and his resurrection (Easter). The latter event may be more important for our salvation, but commemorating a birth is something we mortals can understand. The arrival of a newborn brings with it smiles and tears of joy. We celebrate such an event with presents and words of good cheer. In short, it never hurts to give of ourselves.
I may not be a theologian, but even I understand that it helps to keep a firm eye on that hopeful compass as we make life’s journey. That’s the lesson I want to leave to my son.
I think Luke already knows the truth about Santa. He got his smarts from his mother. Luke rolled his eyes last Christmas every time I mentioned Santa Claus. He hasn’t wanted to write a letter to Santa for the last couple of years—like I did faithfully for nine years—well, I mean once I was old enough to write. Okay, so maybe I only wrote five years’ worth of letters, but that was more than half my life at that point.
My wife decided this year it’s time to sit down with Luke and break the news. She told me it’s my job to tell him. Have I mentioned she’s the smart one?
Like I said, I think he already knows. But I don’t want him to be traumatized like me. I want Luke to know that he won’t need a man in a red suit to keep the spirit of Christmas alive. We can do that any day of the week by the way we treat others.
P. S. I plan on writing all this down too, so that when Luke finds himself in the throes of a mid-life crisis and has to explain to his son that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, he’ll have the benefit of sage advice from his old man.