Christmas is a bit different at La Casa Gentili this year. It’s a bit sadder. A little less magical. And it makes this aging editor feel a touch of melancholy, to tell you the truth.
You see, here’s the thing: Santa Claus won’t officially be making a stop at our Coniston home this Christmas. Our youngest — Asha, who turned 11 back in October and has been wavering on the Santa Claus question since last December — informed us recently that she knew the Santa Claus Secret.
“I know about Santa Claus,” she told my wife and me confidently.
“Oh, really?” I answered coyly.
Her big green-blue eyes gazed up at us, ping-ponging between her poker-faced parents; we weren’t willing to give anything away.
“What do you know?” my wife asked as casual as can be.
“You know,” she said, matching me coy for coy, and flashing a devilish smile, as if to say, “You know that I know that I know that you know, so let’s just cut the crap, eh?”
Frankly, she was a little smug about it.
In our modern world where rites of passage lack the romance of yesteryear (what’s getting your own Instagram account weighed against learning to make fire?), the Santa Claus Secret is one of those markers along the way that we all pass, a signifier that we’re becoming adults, that we’re in on the joke, as it were.
In the immortal words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, discovering the Santa Claus Secret is, much like Luke Skywalker getting his first taste of the Force, a first step into a larger world.
As a dad, it’s the “being in on the joke” thing that weighs on me. Am I a little sad that my baby girl is growing up? A little. That’s not really my bag, though. While the Irish in me loves nothing more than to slide into nostalgic reverie like a warm sappy bath, I’ve always been more excited to see the people my children would grow to become, than to try to hang onto the little cherub they used to be.
No, my sadness has another source.
See, once you know about the man behind the curtain, your vision broadens. You begin to see the world through an adult’s eyes and, too often, that means seeing a world without magic, a world without mystery.
Once you’re in on the Santa Claus Secret, that’s the moment when, if you’re not careful, you can begin to become jaded.
It starts slowly, to be sure, and for those of us who become jaded, it takes decades for it to set in fully. But everything has a beginning, and the beginning of becoming blasé starts when children give up their kids’ eyes and swap them for adult ones.
That swap isn’t a death sentence, though. It’s really just a part of growing up, of a burgeoning awareness of the wider world. In other words, it’s necessary and good.
But seeing the world in a new, adult way, doesn’t mean you have to give up the magic. In fact, you really shouldn’t.
I try to find a happy medium — just jaded enough not to get taken for a ride, but not so jaded the splendour of sunset (or the magic of Christmas) is lost on me.
When the kids were very young, I told them a little Christmas story. Every family has a personal elf, assigned to them by Santa Claus, who keeps an eye on the family and reports back to the big guy so he can keep his Naughty and Nice lists updated.
This special elf is also the one who makes sure Santa knows what the kids were putting on their Christmas lists.
The Gentili family’s personal elf is named Stumpy. Every year on Christmas Eve, when the Gentili children are otherwise occupied, Stumpy sneaks up to the front door and leaves a gift bag stuffed with new pyjamas and a letter from the little elf himself.
The kids would giggle uproariously as the letter was read to them. Besides some jokes, Stumpy also noted a few of the good things the kids had done or achieved that year, and chided them gently for a few shortcomings.
Reading Stumpy’s letter and pulling on the pyjamas he left has always been a special tradition at our house.
And this year, dammit, I’m not giving it up. I don’t care if the Santa Claus Secret isn’t a secret anymore. I don’t care if both my children are growing into their adult eyes.
I don’t care if they’re in on the joke — in fact, I’m glad they’re in on the joke. Because Stumpy is coming on Christmas Eve, and he’s bringing pyjamas and a note and a lesson, too. And Santa Claus is leaving presents under the darn tree.
The lesson to my children is this: Grow up, get a little jaded, enough to keep you safe, but hang onto magic and fun. Without that, adulthood is just drudgery and bills and stress.
It’s OK to live your life with a little magic in it. In fact, life is a heck of a lot better that way.
So, here’s to fun and family and elves. And magic.
Mark Gentili is the managing editor of Sudbury.com and Northern Life.