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Life after “S”


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WARNING: If you are under 10 years old, you should stop reading this right now. Take this issue of The Pilot to your Mom or Dad, and tell them to put it in a safe place. Then, put your coat and hat on and go outside for a minute. Breathe into the cold air and see your breath look like steam. Listen to the birds, or cars or buses, or the sound of your steps. Pick up some snow dust, and lick it off your hand. See the sun sinking low, the bare arms of trees reaching into the blue-gray sky, and the stars appearing before dinner time. Take it all in, and let it all take you in too. And as you get older, no matter what comes your way, remember how you saw the world on this winter day. Carry that world with you until you reach the next, because your vision will never be clearer than it is right now.

It is hard to be childlike, without being childish. The clarity and magic and flexibility of a child’s way of seeing things is an unintended casualty of shouldering responsibility. That kind of simplicity is often eaten alive by the world as it is, by realities that fall far short of what we’re taught is right and good and the way things ought to be. Having children in the house, though, changes that; rather, maybe it just changes us. Perhaps that is why so many people as they get older, long for grandchildren. There’s just something in us all that wishes we could once again experience the joy of seeing things for the very first time; the delight of life in which all things are shiny and new. Children make that possible again.

It’s been easier for our family because we have had young children at home for so very long. Eventually though, the youngest remains so. And when you stop having babies, the presence of childhood is stamped with an expiration date. It happens so slowly that you don’t even see it coming. One day you wake up, and realize that your kids aren’t little any more.

After 25 years of the Jolly Old Elf, sleigh-pulling reindeer, and checking NORAD’s online Santa tracking before and after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, our household has moved on. Over the years, I’ve worried about the disappointment and shock each of our children might experience upon learning the truth about Santa. Some did fall a little faster or harder than others. All were warned not to spoil it for anyone younger than they were. (Thankfully, no one ever did.) But any sadness they may have felt, disappeared when they realized that all initiates would be servants of the dream: wrappers and hiders, stay-up-laters, and most of all custodians of the secret.

This is the first year that everyone in our house has been fully informed about Kris Kringle. While I didn’t know what new shape our family’s holidays would take, I am finding out that there is life after Santa Claus. More importantly, there is Christmas after Santa too.

I decided that we would keep every tradition we have observed fully, and with no real change other than that everyone would be involved in the execution of it all. That meant that on the Eve of St. Nicholas, all the children helped to fill the bowls with oranges, nuts, candy canes, and chocolate golden coins. They also learned how to make the cookies they have always found scattered around the house on the morning of Dec. 6th. I taught them how to mix the yeast dough and shape them into “parkle” or devils. (In our Slovenian tradition, St. Nicholas saves our children from the devils who would like to steal them away by turning them all into cookies.) It’s amazing how what used to take me hours past midnight was finished in short order and before 10 o’clock. All of us then went out onto the deck and banged kettles and steel bowls to simulate the rattling chains of hell. There wasn’t anyone running to bed in terror. For the first time, our youngest two girls were laughing--instead of shuddering--at the sound!

I am grateful that both family life and Christmas are much bigger than fairy tales. The wonderful thing about where our family is now, is that our holidays aren’t diminished in any way. They are enriched. These years offer us the chance to teach our children how to keep the traditions they have enjoyed for one another, and for the families they will have in the future. And even more, they give us the chance to notice that the Mystery we celebrate is more wonderful than fantasy, magic, or myth ever could be. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the birth of God into human history and human hearts, is reason enough for overflowing joy.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.

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