This past weekend, I noticed a memory pop up in my Facebook feed that left me chuckling a bit.

When my daughter was six, we were shopping in my favorite place to bring a high-strung child -- Walmart. She apparently was acting up, as kids often do in public, and at that exact moment I spotted a local cab driver (he had a red t-shirt on with a logo) who resembled Jolly Old St. Nick. I gestured to the gentleman and warned my daughter that if she didn't straighten up, Santa sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows when you've been acting like a turd in Walmart so be good for goodness sake.

My six-year-old promptly put me in my place - letting me and the entire world know that Santa doesn't wear jeans and t-shirts and doesn't need to shop at Walmart in Evansville, IN. My daughter had been seeing the same Santa helper at our 911 Gives Hope for the Holidays toy drive since she was born and in her mind, he was the real deal. Everyone else was a fake and a phony and sat on a throne of LIES.

At first, her very loud Buddy the Elf-like outbursts were not only embarrassing but I had to keep her from alerting other kids that the dude in the library with a fake beard and black mud boots wasn't indeed the real deal. But after a while, I realized that her keen attention to detail might have actually been a welcome characteristic as it kept her from seeing Santa as just a normal neighborhood guy who shops at Walmart in a t-shirt and jeans. In her eyes, he was celebrity who charged a team of flying reindeer around the entire world delivering gifts to children in all corners of the earth.

Telling 'the real' Santa all about her year. -Ashley S

Before the holiday season last year, our favorite Santa helper passed away, and as I mentioned before, my daughter could pick out an imposter like nobody's business. So, after a failed attempt at replacing him, I had a talk with her. I didn't think she was ready for the big talk but I did let her know that all of the Santas we see around here are helpers including the one who had passed. The real Santa is a bit too busy at the North Pole to meet with all the children right before Christmas. At first, I thought the news might devastate her but she was only sad that her friend had passed. The rest she took in stride. She got it and seemed relieved that there was finally an answer to why there were so many Santas around.

During the holiday season Christmas "magic" is EVERYWHERE and as with anything else, the law of diminishing marginal utility applies. The more you get of something, the less special it is. When I was little, you wrote letters to Santa and maybe saw him at the mall. And I can assure you, his lack of a presence in my life made him mysterious and magical. My daughter has met and gets video chats from Santa, his reindeer, Mrs. Claus, about one million of Santa's stand-in helpers, and even has her own personal elf.

Now, I'm not saying that it's not heartbreaking that children everywhere will miss out on one of the fundamental gifts of childhood - a quiet chat in Santa's lap conveying all of their heart's desires. And there's not anything wrong with tons of merriment during the holidays but I realized that I had spent every waking moment each holiday season making it "real" for her when the fantasy might actually be a bit more enthralling.

Childhood is in itself magical because everything is still new and nothing is out of the realm of possibility. There's a reason we love unicorns, and dragons, and fairies, and make-believe so much when we are young without ever seeing a single one of them. She never needed me to drag her to every available Santa sighting or make every guy at the Walmart with a white beard into the Big Man. She just needed a taste to build him up in her own mind.

So, this year, with fewer sightings of Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the entire population of the North Pole, perhaps instead of mourning what we have lost we should celebrate the gift of the mystery. I have to wonder if might spur little imaginations to formulate their own ideas of Christmas magic.

Santa telling her about all of his reindeer. -Ashley S
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