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The Lessons of Christmas

December 13, 2010

           I learned the lessons of Christmas when I was in the first grade. It was colder than usual that year, and I was spending more time indoors with my younger brother.  My mom was trying anything to keep us occupied.  One evening she sat the two of us down to make cards to Santa Claus and lists telling him what we wanted for Christmas.
          My brother and I immediately began folding and cutting construction paper into the cards we were going to send.  We drew picture of reindeer, sleighs, snowmen and snowflakes all over the cards and all over the envelopes that we were given.  Our Christmas lists were several pages of paper, front and back, and included everything we could think of. When we didn’t know the name of a toy, we described it, or cut a picture out of it and glued it to the piece of paper.
          When were done, we handed our letter proudly to our mom and she promised to mail them to Santa Claus at the North Pole.  John and I spent endless hours talking about all the presents we were going to get and all the fun were going to have.  Christmas morning was actually a bit of a disappointment compared to the visions dancing in our heads.  Nothing could have lived up to our expectations.  We probably spent more time dreaming about Christmas than actually playing with the toys we received.    
          That was the first lesson I learned.  The anticipation of something is always greater.  In fact, anticipation is probably the greatest pleasure in life.  Every upcoming vacation become an adventure waiting to happen.  Every meal is savored before the first taste. It is what makes buying a lottery ticket so much fun.  The opportunity to dream about what you would do with all the money you win. Nothing in life every quite makes it to the perfection anticipated.      
          The next lesson was when I was looking for a pair of scissors to cut out snowflakes with.  I was searching my Mom and Dad’s room (even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to) when I opened my mother’s nightstand.  Inside were stacks of romance novels with garish cover.  The drawer got stuck halfway open.  Something on top of the books was jamming the drawer.  I reached inside and pulled the papers out.  In my hand were the letters to Santa Claus that John and I had written.  My mom didn’t send the letters to Santa Claus like she had promised.
          In that moment I knew my mother had lied to me.  Somehow, I knew that the lie went deeper.  She didn’t mail the letters because there was no one to mail them to.  Santa Claus was a lie.  I knew in that perfect moment of revelation that there was no Santa.
          I wasn’t devastated.  I was excited.  I felt so grown-up.  I knew a secret that every parent knew.  Something that other children didn’t know.  Clutching the letters in my hand, I rushed to tell my Mom my discovery.  “There’s no Santa Claus, because if there was, you would have mailed our letters.”
         I don’t remember how my mother looked when I came to here with my discovery.  I suspect she was sad, but she didn’t deny the truth directly.  “You’re right that there isn’t someone named Santa Claus that comes every Christmas to deliver presents, but there’s the idea of Santa Claus that’s more important.  Santa Claus represents charity and giving gifts and everything that is good in people.  It is the spirit of Santa Claus that’s important, not the man.  So in a way he exists whenever someone gives someone else a gift.  Do you understand?”
         I nodded.  This only made knowing the truth even more powerful.  I now knew about the mystical part of Christmas.  The inner secrets.  The secrets only grown-ups knew.  My mom probably said more, I don’t remember.  I do remember the promise.
         “You have to promise not to tell anyone what you know.”  A sacred trust was being given to me with that statement.  This secret was bigger than anything I had ever known and made me part of the grown-ups.
         “I promise.”  I said seriously. The next day when I was at my friend Joshua’s house, I broke that promise and learned another lesson of Christmas. 
         Joshua lived next door and was my best friend.  We did everything together.  During the summer we dug holes in an attempt to get to China, but we never quite made it there.  During the winter we built snow forts.  We were inseparable.
         We were in his room, playing with some toys when I told him I had a secret.
         “What’s the secret?”
         “I can’t tell you.” I said smugly.
        “Come on,” He wheedled, “you have to tell me.”
        “I promised.”
        “I thought we were best friends.”  
        “O.K., but you can’t tell anyone else.”
        “I won’t.”  He said, his toys forgotten.  Waiting for my secret.
        “There’s no Santa Claus.”  I said with pride.
        This was not the kind of secret he was expecting.  “That’s not true.”
        I nodded, “It is too.  My mom told me it was true.  There is no Santa Claus.”
        “That’s a lie!” Joshua screamed. “Take it back, take it back!”
        “I can’t take it back, because it’s true.” I taunted.
        Joshua howled.  He had the worst temper tantrum I had ever seen.  He was on the floor, all his limbs squirming in every direction and he was banging his head against the floor.  While screaming and sobbing, “Take it back!”  Over and over again.
         I just watched him. I had a strange feeling of power and satisfaction as he beat his head into the floor.  That was the second lesson.  I learned that people often prefer a lie to the truth.  When they are confronted with the truth they become upset, even violent.
         It wasn’t long before Joshua’s mom rushed into the room.  I just stood back and watched her try to sooth him.
         She glanced at me, “I think you’d better go home.”
         I found my way out of the house and back home through the snow.  When I got home my mom was on the phone with Joshua’s mother.  She pointed at the couch and I knew I was supposed to sit down and wait for her to get off the phone.  It didn’t take long.
        “Did you tell Joshua that there was no Santa Claus?”
        “Yes.”
        “I told you not to, didn’t I?”
        I nodded.
       “And you promised not to.”
       “Yes, Mom.”
       “What you did wasn’t right.  You’ve upset Joshua and his mom.”
       “I just told him the truth.”
       “I know, but you weren’t supposed to.  Joshua’s mom wants you to fix it.”
       “How can I fix it?”  I was confused.  “I told him the truth.”
       “You need to go back and tell him that you made it up.  That you lied.”
       “But I didn’t.”  I protested.
       “You need to tell him that you did.”
       So I went back and told Joshua that I had lied while his mom watched.  That’s when I learned what it was like to be a grown-up.  That’s when I learned the final secret.  The biggest secret that we don’t like to admit.
       Being a grown-up didn’t have anything to do with the truth. 
       It’s about telling lies.

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