This photo is from several years ago. It is a picture of my children surrounding me dressed as Santa Claus. This was back when the beard was fake (and so was the round little belly…)
And I love imagining what was going through their little minds at this very moment.
A couple of them knew it was me. I imagine that the oldest pictured found it entirely ironic to be standing next to her dad standing in for Santa Claus. While my son probably thought it was really cool. This was a few years before he would have thought something like this was really not cool.
The redhead has never been fond of people dressed up in costume. I’m not sure if she knew it was me, but I’m not sure it would have mattered. It’s the costume, the pretending to be someone you aren’t, the “depiction”, that offends… Even now, she can’t be approached by a mascot in a ballpark, or by an historical reenactor in Williamsburg, without an anxiety attack. She’s a redhead and she has her idiosyncrasies. She also has my heart.
Now my little blonde, I think, was simply struggling with an extreme sense of stranger danger. She had no idea that it was me in the costume. She only knew that mom told her to stand there, next to a man she didn’t know, and told her to pretend to be happy about it–a sentiment common to children in close proximity to Santa Claus.
And then there’s the youngest. This guy has to be wondering only one thing, “Wait, where’s my daddy?” You see, this was my store. And when he came to this store it was for one reason: to see his dad.
Am I right? Is that what each of these little ones is thinking at the moment this picture was taken? Is there any way to know? The things that go on in the minds of children are mysterious and awe-inspiring.
“Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is,” declared Master Jedi Yoda.
I’ve spent my life trying to figure out what’s going on in there, attempting to cultivate it, and eventually resolving to emulate it. This is one of the main reasons I love being Santa Claus!
This has been a hard year for all of us. Hard for our world, our nation, our communities. Hard for us as parents. And hard for our children. Hard because they don’t get it. Hard because they just want to go outside and play with their friends. Hard because we, as their parents, who always know what to do, suddenly don’t know what to do. Hard because they see changes in their communities, their nation, their world. Hard.
And in their minds? What are they thinking? How are they coping? What are the pillars that they can rely on to hold up their understanding of the world? What anchors are holding them in place?
As parents, we navigate these waters carefully. With the changes, what will we do to maintain a normalcy for our children? What traditions can we hold up to reassure them that we have not gone far astray? What anchors have we provided for them to drop into the uncertain depths to find purchase in a solid reality?
The answers are many, but I would be remiss not to suggest one dear to my heart:
Look forward to Christmas.
We don’t know what we’ll be doing, or what our world will look like. But we do know that it will still be Christmas… we can be sure of that. Like the Whos down in Who-ville, who taught the Grinch that noone can stop “Christmas from coming, IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same.” It will be Christmas. Despite it all. And there will be celebration. There will be singing. And there will be love.
And there will be Santa.
Fill their minds with Christmas. I am honored to be part of filling the minds of young people with joy, and hope, and Christmas Spirit. For that is what they need now.
The minds of the little ones you see in the picture are a little more developed now. They have been filled over the years by me and my wife, by their peers, by their instruction and learning, and by their unique views of the world. And I still crave to know what’s going on in there.
Are they still scared of the unknown or leary of the poorly-depictioned? Do they still wonder at the inconsistencies that surround them? Are they still amused by the ironies of life? Do they still think their dad is cool?
Of course they do: Their dad is Santa Claus.