DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
I LOOK BACK now on why I never sought to convince Ziya to believe in Santa Claus. I think I had decided that I would be a mom who always told her the truth. Also, she was always a logical child so one fanciful story would have led to several other untruths to explain how only some reindeer flew through the sky, how Santa got in past the burglar-proofing, and how come the dogs never barked at him, for pothounds are renowned barkers, even while retreating with each woof.
When my grandmother passed away, my mom told Zi that my grandmother became a star looking down at us at nights. Zi promptly asked me if all the stars were dead people. Also, if Santa could get in, so could bandits, right? She was a cautious, somewhat anxious child with a litany of questions whenever I put her to bed, and I thought honesty would always be more reassuring, and would instigate fewer unanswerable questions. So, truth and logic prevailed, perhaps sacrificing a little of the fiction that typically creates Christmas spirit.
We would still joyfully decorate a small tree, string up lights, and open presents thoughtfully chosen. Our magic became our time together and with grandparents and cousins, as we traipsed from our home to theirs, taking family pictures, sharing food, and watching the children reap a small bounty.
Now that she’s a big ten-year-old, we have been trying to think about how to continue to thread the magic through this time; how to transition her from a Christmas spirit characterised by small hands excitedly tearing open wrapping paper to one that is about giving in the way that Santa Claus does; far, wide and big-heartedly.
So, we told her a story about special knowledge that you learn as you grow up, to which all of us are one day introduced, and which she’s now old enough to learn. It’s a secret really, though it seems she had a sense of it all along. It’s true that Santa is not real, but the reason that children are taught about him is because he is a symbol of the spirit which ultimately connects us from house to house and from country to country around the world.
We told her stories of donations we had made or helped provide to those in need, without announcing it to anyone. We told her that all adults do this because they know that’s what the spirit of Christmas means. It’s something we should do all year around, but this time is a reminder to us all, just like the story of Santa is a reminder to little children of how joyful it is to be a generous person, an idea they eventually come to appreciate.
It’s only when children get big enough that the knowledge that Santa Claus is simply a symbol, who everyone knows isn’t real, is shared with them. However, your mom only wanted you to know what was truthful and what you should believe in, we told her; the spirit of thinking of others, sharing from what you have, and being giving.
That night, she pondered what she could give and the next day decided on cookies she baked, which she could package for neighbours, other children, and those to whom she wanted to say thank you. Thus followed a baking extravaganza, which we kept an eye on, but let her do on her own. Cookies rose from the oven, mixed with chocolate chips and sprinkles, and pride at her big-girl understanding. She had never believed in Santa Claus, who isn’t real and who she would outgrow anyway. Now she had a surer sense of the magic that would last a lifetime, filling her spirit again and again, perhaps not only at Christmas, but throughout the year.
These chances for wonderment go by quickly, for children grow up very fast. With each stage, parents get precious opportunities to teach truths and values, and create new memories. This year, again, we have our little pine tree, now two years old, standing taller with stronger branches. We’ve had to teach her that it’s not whether it’s big or covered in decorations or compares to others that matter. We are teaching her to cherish grandparents and cousins, and the joy of being together.
Whatever lessons you are using this time to teach your children, may their truth and magic last. However you celebrate the spirit of giving, may you have a merry Christmas.
Diary of a mothering worker