A few years ago, when our youngest Lily was in Kindergarten, I sat down with her classmates and we discussed the meaning of Christmas. Their insights were just what you would expect from a five year old – entertaining, inaccurate, yet full of certainty.
The first question was simple: Why do we celebrate Christmas? One little girl said, “We celebrate Christmas because that’s the day Jesus was born. His father, Joseph, sawed boards for a living and his mother, Mary, took care of Jesus all day.”
Next question: What happened on the day he was born? Lily’s friend Mia, said, “His parents went to a little temple and they put baby Jesus in the hay with a blanket, and they had a donkey and animals.” A little guy got so excited to contribute that he shouted, “Oh, and when he got born, an angel went there to the wise men and said, ‘I have great joy!’” Then according to Lily and two other girlfriends, the wise men brought the baby Jesus some gold stuff in a little gold basket, a bottle with smelly stuff in it and some mercury.”
I decided to switch gears a little bit with my line of questioning: Where does Santa live? One little boy was absolutely confident when he said, “Santa lives in the North Pole, which is on the moon.” But his buddy next to him countered: “No, it’s at the bottom, I mean the top. Is it the bottom or to top? Oh, I don’t know!”
And what is the North Pole like? One boy had an extensive description: “The North Pole is like an arctic place and it has Christmas trees and whole bunches of elves and reindeer that have magic in them that make them fly.”
“Really?” I asked, completely surprised. He giggled. “They can fly?” I gasped. ”How in the world can they do that?”
One little girl explained patiently, “His reindonkeys fly him to our houses.”
“Okay,” I said, “but HOW do they fly?” The guy who thinks the North Pole is on the moon started moving his arms up and down, saying, “The reindeer fly by flapping their feet,” he demonstrated.
After his display, I think I caught him rolling his eyes at the others as if to say, “Can you get a load of this goofy lady? She doesn’t even know reindeer can fly!”
Next I asked them what Santa does in the North Pole. Flappy-armed boy spoke to me patiently, as if speaking to a child, which is ironic, if you think about it: “The elves live there and work and work and Santa’s their boss.”
Which begged the question: What does Santa’s wife do? One girl told me very plainly, without a hint of a smile, “It’s Miss Santa’s job to fix the T.V.”
Next I asked them how on earth Santa gets the toys from the sleigh into their house. Much discussion took place around the chimney, and they all assured me they don’t make a fire on Christmas Eve so Santa doesn’t get burned. One shy little girl finally spoke up: “My mom leaves the door unlocked so he can get in. We make chocolate chip cookies because he loves chocolate chip cookies. And sometimes we pour milk for him too.”
Then I asked, Have you ever actually seen Santa? One boy said that he’s tried, then added, “But I’m usually very tired at that point.” And his buddy said his family camped out on the floor but still didn’t spy him. “He must have turned himself invisible,” he explained.
Of course I asked the obligatory question of the season: Were they naughty or nice this year? Without fail, they assured me that they had all been nice, but one honest boy added, “Sometimes we can be a little bit naughty.”
Last question: If you could say anything to Santa, what would it be? I expected to hear additional gift items to add to their lists, or questions on how he does it all. But instead a little girl’s response caught me by surprise, which seems appropriate, given the fact that this holiday is all about surprises and wonder.
She smiled and whispered, “I’d say, ‘Santa, I hope you have a fun time.’”