They believed in Santa and the spirit of giving. They sprinkled reindeer food and shopped their little hearts out at the Santa shop at school, wanting to find the perfect gift for everyone in the family (generally amongst the $1 items on the white elephant table, fiscally responsible little goobers that they were). It was pure magic to see their little faces the first time they laid eyes on the presents under the tree. It warmed my heart to watch their sturdy little selves trundle up the center aisle at church for the children's sermon and to be so solemn about the pastor's gift of a candy cane (said solemnity quickly changed to glee when they discovered they could eat the candy cane while the service continued). They were so little, so trusting, so full of belief.
And now they are older. So Christmas is a little bittersweet for me. When the children in the congregation go forward, my older two stay in the pew with us and the youngest one only goes to the front if he's accompanying his younger cousins. And Santa Claus, well there's one unbeliever and one believer. Then there's R. who never much liked him in the first place. Her current line is that she doesn't "believe in him all the way but I don't not believe either." She's hedging her bets, the sceptical one. And she still believes in presents so she won't jeopardize those. The oldest is lobbying to be allowed to help put presents under the tree with the adults. I've told him no. I'm not ready to give up the look, fleeting but still there, that crosses his face when he first sees all the gifts on Christmas morning. Or maybe we should let him so he'll know just how bittersweet it is when you join the ranks of the grown-ups. Then he probably won't want to join in next year but will be content to going back to being a kid.
The traditions of Christmas with small children are waning with my growing kids. They'll be let in on all the mundane secrets of the grown-ups soon, some of it tradition of its own type: like why my dad always thanks his mom, who my children never had the privilege of meeting, for the socks and underwear in his stocking, how the rest of us head to bed long before daddy is finished wrapping the myriads of things he's purchased in his ongoing effort to keep every mail order catalog on the planet in business, and why we all chuckle about the use of the funny pages or store bags as wrapping when the family Claus gets too tired or runs out of supplies. But knowing these things takes just a little of the magic out of Christmas and marks another passed milestone on the road to adulthood. I'm selfishly glad that I still have the one who believes so I can still catch some of the pure delight through his innocent and unjaded eyes. When that goes, well, a tiny bit of the sparkle of the holidays will be gone too. And I know that day is getting closer. Sweet filled with love Christmas but bittersweet too.
If you want to read other posts on the Virtual Advent Tour, look at the dedicated Virtual Advent Tour blog to see the schedule of postings, including others today.