I didn’t think that I would see him again. It had been such a long time since we ran into each other. I heard that he was back in town from some friends. I knew where he was going to be and thankfully I would have to go out of my way to see him. I was pretty sure that I could get through the holiday season without that uncomfortable awkwardness.
But instead of avoiding him, I did the unthinkable, not only did I seek him out, but I dragged my two-year-old daughter with me. She was none the wiser, as she is too little to completely understand what our relationship meant to me and how thoughts of him used to keep me up at night.
We walked into the Lan-Mart building and found ourselves in line to see the man I had loved for so many years. There he was, wearing the same red suit he always wore, his belly big, his beard as white as snow. To some he was “St. Nick”, to others “Kris Kringle”, but to me he was always just “Santa”. As we stood in line to see him, Rocky really could care less. In fact, when it was our turn, she was a little freaked out. He gave her a candy cane and encouraged her to sit on his lap. But when she didn’t want to, I sat down on his lap with her. We smiled for the camera and that was that. She wouldn’t even talk to him.
This December I have found myself thinking more and more about Santa. I was full of mixed emotion and desired to recreate and relive my childhood experiences of Santa with my children. To some degree I have always struggled with just how we were going to celebrate the holidays with Hanukkah and Christmas coinciding. But this year, my grandmother fell ill following a fall and my family’s holiday plans to rent a house in San Rafael so we could celebrate Christmas together, was cancelled.
Although, initially I was disappointed that the holiday celebration wasn’t going to happen, I breathed a sigh of relief that this might be the year when our family could really break free from Christmas and focus solely on Hanukkah. It was my hope that Brent and I would get an opportunity to continue on our path of creating our own holiday rituals with our young family without influence.
What I didn’t expect was that I would find myself balking at the idea of not celebrating Christmas at all. Here was an opportunity to let it go and instead I found myself at Michael’s buying four stockings and decorative glitter glue. The thoughts of our family goal of raising Jewish children would enter my head one minute and in the next minute all I could think of was red, green, gold, and Santa.
In my inner turmoil I grabbed Brent’s attention one night and sat him down. There I laid out my December dilemma. My mom had mailed up the gifts she had bought, presumably from Santa, and I talked with him about how I was feeling pulled to allow Santa into our home. Then I confessed to my stocking purchase.
But truth is I do want my children to experience the joy of all that this holiday season has to offer. We make my grandmother’s Christmas cookies and call them holiday cookies. We pack up in the car and enjoy the holiday lights with the kids. We watch Christmas movies and laugh together. And the best part is that we can do all that without compromising our deep desire to shape our children’s Jewish identity.
I will always love Santa; he brought me a lot of excitement in my youth. That excitement was mostly about the gifts. I thought about what I was going to get, whether or not I would be getting more than my siblings, and if I would get what I wanted. Wanting my children to experience Santa and the pull I was experiencing to introduce him into our home was mostly about the material aspects of the holiday. I struggled too with not and wanting my kids to feel left out if they didn’t have Christmas.
Now that I am raising my own family, I’m excited to create with my husband the rituals and traditions we want for our kids to remember. I’m sure that they will always know Santa in some way because we will always be a part of my family of origin and we happily honor their traditions. Santa will always have a piece of my heart.
This year we are going to test the waters, this year the gifts that arrived from my mom will be gifts our children will enjoy as Christmas gifts from Nana, not Santa. We are going to see how it goes. We can always try something different next year if we choose.
The magic of the holiday season has been going to candy cane making parties, gingerbread house making, cookie decorating, menorah lighting, latke frying, and everything in between. Although I still haven’t found the Hanukkah equivalent of an Elf on the Shelf doll, the beauty of parenting this time of year for me has been deciding what we want to do and worry less about what I think others think we should do or worrying what people think of us because of what we don’t do. I’m just going to enjoy it and enjoy my children.
I know mine is a first-world dilemma, but I feel immense gratitude for my life today, just as it is. Wishing you all the brightest of holidays and a holiday filled with the stuff that really matters to you most. Happy Holidays!