Isabelle is 9 1/2 years old and she's started asking questions:
How can Santa really travel to everyone's house in one night?
Why do they have fake Santas at the mall?
Are there really such things as flying reindeer?
We give her simple answers, usually off the cuff, but keep things pretty realistic:
Santa's time is not OUR time, one night to pass out toys to all of the children is much longer than just one night in Santa time.
The fake Santas at the mall are just some of Santa's friends who travel around playing the part to spread Christmas joy and cheer.
Yes, there really are flying reindeer. And little elves and a big 'ole sleigh and a toy making workshop. Santa is magical and wonderful and so full of love. He gets his joy from giving to others, a truly selfless person. He is a wonderful example of the humility and grace we should strive to practice daily.
We suspect she will at least pretend to believe for quite some time, even when she actually doesn't. She likes the magic and the excitement and the whimsy. This year, she studied about Saint Nicholas in her religion class. She was so taken with his story: the protector of children, a man so generous and a true role model for living a compassionate life. He lived by the Gospel and used his entire inheritance taking care of the sick, the poor, and the needy. Isabelle was so taken by the idea that Santa Claus was actually born from the life's work of the selfless St. Nick.
This is how we have presented Santa Claus to our children: not just a jolly old man who gives them gifts for being "good". No, Santa Claus is so much more than that. Santa Claus represents love, compassion, and generosity. And the sweet little elf on the shelf that he sent to watch over our girls, Freddie, falls right in with those beliefs. Freddie is not here to cause mischief or threaten the girls and send bad reports back to the North Pole. He is here as a reminder to be good and sweet and kind, to uphold the Christmas spirit with one another and to honor the legacy of Saint Nicholas. And so on the day that Isabelle comes to us and asks if Santa is real, this is what we will tell her. He is real in each and every one of us, in all of the kind and thoughtful things that we do for each other. The magic of this season, the moral tug we feel to do kind things and care for those in need: that is Santa.
We took a trip to the mall to visit Santa last week and I was so pleased with how everything turned out: the line moved quickly, Brees managed to get only 2 stains on her dress before the photo, River was wide awake, and no one cried. And Isabelle took it upon herself to be the family representative, telling Santa what her little brother and sister want for Christmas and assuring him that they have been very, very good.
This just might be the last year she BELIEVES. We're going to make it the best year yet.