By Shelley Powers
I still get presents from Santa. I’m 44.
Actually, until recent years, my mom required that I, along with my three brothers, keep up our annual North Pole letter-writing campaign. Thankfully, nowadays, with my siblings and I scattered across state lines and everyone in a rush with their own lives, Mom has eased the mandate and has begrudgingly allowed us to e-mail her our Christmas lists.
Amazingly though, those lists still seem to find their way to the Claus Inbox.
That Ol’ Rascal (a moniker given to the Bearded One by my father years ago) always manages to tuck some presents under the tree for us, which is very surprising since Pop promised for decades to shoot St. Nick before he could deliver our gifts (we have an alarmingly dark sense of humor at times in our family…don’t judge).
During this time of year, debates often ensue regarding the virtues and the evils of Santa Claus, and I gladly leave those debates to the folks with kids. Each to his own as far as what traditions are best for individual families. I was never blessed with children; so, I don’t have a dog in that race.
What I was blessed with though were parents who made my childhood amazing—at Christmas and year round. And, because of these wonderful parents, Santa, for me, is not about children getting. Santa is about parents giving. And, this, my little elves, has taught me so much.
Despite having very little in their pockets in their younger years, Don and Sue Powers created absolute magic for all four of us kids on Christmas mornings. We had toys, sure; but, our folks wanted more than just toys for us. They wanted us to have loving memories. They wanted us to have an appreciation for originality. They wanted us to have stories to tell. They wanted us to have gifts from the heart, not just from the store.
And, biased though I may be, I’d have to say that Don and Sue succeeded tremendously in all those areas.
Now, before I go any further, please let me make it very clear that Christmas at the Powers house was and is about the birth of Jesus Christ. The Nativity set is always displayed with prominence; and, just like we keep Jesus in the center of that set, we keep him in the center of our lives. But, for me, having a Christ-centered home is what has made the wonder and awe of Santa even more significant. The selflessness of my parents bringing Santa to life mirrors the selflessness of my Savior bringing me new life. I didn’t deserve either, but they were both given out of love.
I’m sure my childhood appreciation for Mr. Kringle was as surface as a shiny bauble on the tree. (But, honestly, what kid looks for depth and meaning when staring at a living room filled with presents?) As an adult, however, I have come to realize the sacrifice and hard work it took to create a world with Santa. And every year I grow older, I become more and more aware of all my parents did for me as they raised me. I may never know everything they did and sacrificed to create such a precious childhood for me, but I can certainly cherish what I have deduced thus far and I can look at those gift tags signed by Santa (whose penmanship I always found suspiciously akin to my mother’s hand) with an appreciation much deeper than I had as a child.
So, hats off to my folks for playing the long game in teaching us these values through the red-suited metaphor, and, as a tribute to them for laying a finger aside of their nose for more than four decades, here are four things I learned because of Santa Claus:
1. SACRIFICE AND RESOURCEFULNESS
I don’t like to say we were poor growing up. We had food and clothing and shelter and warmth and love. But, we never had much monetarily. My folks were resourceful because, well, they are both incredibly creative and intelligent people. But, they were also resourceful out of necessity. I saw them go without so that we kids would have. They were never martyrs about sacrificing; they actually made it seem like a fun challenge! Santa Powers didn’t just give gifts that could be purchased at the store. He believed in handmade gifts. From doll houses to doll clothes and dancing wooden puppets to hand-painted stilts, I could always count on at least one gift Christmas morning that had been handmade just for me at the North Pole. As a child, this added to the wonder of the morning. As an adult, I know now that these gifts were true labors of love made by my parents’ own hands.
2. ASK WITHOUT EXPECTATIONS
Despite the commercialized images of Santa and the movies of Santa and the larger-than-life lore of Santa that surrounded me throughout childhood, my younger self never believed that Santa was richer than my parents. I just didn’t. Now maybe my mom would argue with this, but I can’t remember asking for anything more than I would have asked for from my own folks. I may have asked for more items all at once, but never extravagant items. I remember it seemed selfish to do so. Even as I wrote my letters, I never thought that I would get everything I listed. Truth is, I didn’t get everything. I got a lot (probably most), but not everything…or at least not everything exactly as I had requested it. This was good for me. As a kid, I may have been disappointed at times; but, as an adult, this taught me that nothing material is guaranteed or promised to us in this world.
3. GIVE WITHOUT EXPECTATIONS
So often we give gifts and want to have the person thank us or show us their appreciation. Knowing that my parents gave gifts anonymously as Santa taught me to enjoy the sheer power of the joy of giving…without being lauded or thanked or, even, acknowledged. Giving selflessly and without expectations is the purest form of sacrifice, and Santa Don and Santa Sue brought this lesson home to me by allowing me to be a part of the giving. The best Christmas memory I have is from when I was about 10. My brother, Beau, was around 5 years old and loved knights and castles and dragons. This was the year my folks made me an honorary elf in Santa’s workshop, which opened just after Beau went to bed each night that December. With a big batch of paper maché and a fair amount of paint, we worked together to transform cylindrical cardboard oatmeal cartons into towers, empty cardboard egg crates into battlements, and repurposed empty toilet paper rolls into turrets topped with pine cone scale shingles. We worked on the toy every night, and I felt so special doing something for my little red-headed brother. When Christmas morning came and Beau saw that castle from Santa under the tree, his excitement and delight overwhelmed me with joy. He played with that castle so much over the next few years that the Quaker Oats man began to peer through the worn out paper maché. To this day, those memories wrap me up in utter happiness.
4. THE POWER OF WONDER AND IMAGINATION
Above all else, I think the greatest lesson I have ever learned from Santa is that wonder and imagination are powerful ways to create emotional connection; instill values and drive; and teach important life lessons. Nothing was ever better than the first few moments every Christmas morning when my eyes would fly open long before sun up. I could see the faint glow of the tree lights shining from the living room and down the hallway. I would throw back the covers and run to Beau and Ben’s room, my teeth chattering and bare feet freezing in the cold that only old wooden floors could offer. After being shaken awake by me, my brothers and I would run past the living room, hiding our eyes so as to not spoil the surprises that awaited (well, maybe we peeked just a little…or a lot if the peeking was done by Ben). When we reached our parents’ room, we would wake them with our loudly whispered suspicions of “I think Santa came!” The gifts were never more important than being together as a family. Never. And, when late-comer Cooper was born years down the road, we would all thrill at the opportunity to enjoy the richness of Santa and Christmas morning all over again through Coop’s young eyes.
Christ used metaphors and parables to teach. My parents used Santa to do the same. As a writer, I believe that hyperbole and suspended disbelief are tools to open our imaginations; to transport us to different places; and to help free our minds of our daily constraints. I’m thankful for my parents suspending my disbelief as long as they could so that I can now carry cherished memories and life lessons around in my heart.
Wonder, love, sacrifice, resourcefulness, giving, appreciation, and joy are pretty great lessons to take away from a legendary character that flies in a sled pulled by levitating reindeer. I haven’t a doubt that my creative parents would have made certain I learned these things even without Santa.
But, I’m sure glad they didn’t.