I think I cried harder the first time I lost faith in a magical man in the sky.
When Childhood Christmas would come I could barely sleep, listening for the sound of bells, the patter of hooves on a snowcapped roof. I would sit up, clad in my snuggly onsie, and wipe the frosty window with my fist. I would peer up into the cold, black sky to catch a glimpse of this strange and marvelous person who would go to such trouble to leave his magical home and come down into mine, to bless me with things I wanted.
I didn’t need proof of him. I had known that he was real my entire life. He was watching me always, and he knew my heart was good. He promised me a reward for doing the right thing, and he always followed through. Not to mention that everyone else told me he was real. So why would I ever doubt him? I especially liked that he had an endless supply of wonderful things to give and was not limited by time, distance, or the laws of nature and science that I had just begun to learn about.
I was an older kid when I let him go. I didn’t want to relinquish that part of me that could believe in magic. I didn’t want to move fully, courageously into this somewhat drab and rigid thing called “reality,” where there were no exceptions or exclusions. Where things had to be demonstrable to be considered real, and were forced to abide by the laws of motion, the confines of time, or human limitation. At times I wished I could believe forever and, at others, that I had never believed at all.
Flash forward to motherhood and a Christmas conundrum. My daughter was never the child of fantasy that I had been. The only picture I have of her with Santa, I posted above. As you can see, she wasn’t very interested, haha! As she grew, she became a “hard-core scientist,” the kind that took apart barrettes, cabinets, clocks, and pillows to understand how each worked. She sought symmetry, balance, logical explanations. She traced the path of reflections from light in water and watched the motion of steam as it drifted from her soup spoon. Her magic was reality.
One December when she was six, she sat me down and matter-of-factly began, “Why don’t you just go ahead and tell me there’s no Santa? It’s much more disturbing to think that some strange guy is sneaking into our house at night than it is to think that Santa is you.” Not knowing how to respond, I asked her, “Why are you so sure there’s no Santa?” Her reply was, “If Santa were real, there would be no toy drives.”
And that was that. Testable real-world evidence did not line up with the obviously flawed Santa hypothesis, and she was on to the Mom theory. The wonderful thing was that she wanted reality. It consoled her to know what made a pillow puffy and why a clock ticked and that there was a rational explanation for her Christmas gifts. Removing the creepy, the unverifiable and the dubious only made Christmas more amazing. And I was relieved because I no longer had to sneak around.
I soon learned, though, that Santa had some conveniences. I was already feeling awkward about signing “Love, Mom,” only five gifts in. It sure seemed like I was getting a lot of credit for a lot of gifts to a little person who couldn’t buy me anything in return. And what if she didn’t like some of the clothes? She would certainly feel bad telling me, now that I couldn’t throw Santa under the bus, and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to exchange them for something she’d prefer. Because she was so caring, would understanding that I worked hard and spent a lot on a special gift remove some the joy she felt at receiving it?
Letting go of belief in magic isn’t easy. My daughter is not afraid of a fictitious stranger in her home anymore, but she also has to accept that gifts come from the hard work of people she loves. She isn’t afraid of God anymore either, the mysterious man in the sky who would watch her every move and write her name on a list, good or bad, with promises of gifts or threats of hell. But with that comes letting go of the easy answers. “We miss him, but your friend is with Jesus now.” “Don’t be afraid. Angels are watching over you.” “This is a tough time, but we have to trust that God has a plan.”
If we are intentional about working through those changes, truth pays off. Life is more valuable when it isn’t coated with fabricated details. We no longer need to imagine heaven in the clouds, to fully appreciate a stunning composite of sunlight, water, and air. We don’t need to harbor fantasies to find magic. There is love in the gifts we give one another. There is glory in nature, and amazement in science.
There is splendor and magnificence all around us.