I was about 3 or 4 when I noticed that my present from Santa was wrapped in the same blue wrapping paper (with ice skating penguins) as my other presents. "Mom," I asked, on Christmas morning, "why does it have the same paper?" My mom hemmed and hawed, then said Santa had borrowed paper. I quirked my mouth and said, "I don't think so."
The jig was up. I'd figured it out.
From that point on, Christmas wasn't about Santa at our house. As the youngest, and the earliest to discover the ruse that was Santa Claus, they had thought I would believe the longest of my siblings. But they were wrong. Naturally gifted in the art of noticing small details (shout out to my skills as an editor!), it didn't take long.
It was almost a blessing though. As I wrote in my post about Santa Claus and my decision to not tell Forrest that Santa is real, removing Santa from Christmas makes it a lot more, well, magical. It's less about getting to the day and more about enjoying the season.
When I was little, I associated Christmas with taking photos in front of the tree, eating squares of cheese on Triscuit crackers, and excitedly looking forward to getting to open my stocking. (My favorite part because it usually had candy.)
As I got older, Christmas was much more about having a break from school. Less about the day, more about the month. (Does it feel like we used to get way longer Christmas breaks? Just me?)
Now, Christmas is all about being a parent: making the season magical for Forrest, sharing my favorite movies with him, baking cookies with him.
In the past 10 years, I've encouraged everyone I know to do less Christmas gifts for their friends and family, and more gifts for their community. Purchasing gifts for foster children or for women's shelters, donating money to charities they support, volunteering at soup kitchens, and more are all ways to give back to your community. Many of these, like donating gifts or money, can be done in someone's name. If you don't know what to get someone for Christmas, making a donation is something that both feels good and does good.
That's really what Christmas means to me: it's about doing good and feeling good. Getting your house cozy, warm, and decorated--and helping so that others can keep their homes warm and cozy too. Donating gifts so that every child can have joy on Christmas morning. Donating supplies to women's shelters so they can feel good on Christmas day and beyond. Giving money to animal shelters so that every cat and dog can have a hearty meal. There are lots of ways to spread Christmas joy; and for me, Christmas is about making sure everyone has a good time.
This past week, I saw a girl stop her car along a busy road, jump out, and retrieve a small, black drawstring bag from her trunk. It was like those bags you often get free at basketball games: a backpack shape, but with drawstrings. She ran to a man who was panhandling on the corner of the intersection and handed it to him. "Happy Holidays!" she said as she ran back to her car. I was stopped nearby and saw him open it; inside were hygiene supplies, food, a $5 bill, a voucher for a free cup of coffee at a local shop, and a few other things.
It really made me realize how Christmas isn't just about giving to our friends and family, but everyone. It was incredible to see happen in real life, but it's true that there are many Santas out in the world and we can all be one.
So for me, Christmas means to not just celebrate the season and my family, but to act as Santa Claus in every way that I can: giving to those in need, lifting up those who need it, and choosing to be better, always.