Chambless is 5. Her future career goals include being a mermaid. At a recent Georgia Southern football game, she excitedly noted that all of the cheerleaders had golden hair — “just like me.” She also knows and uses words like cornucopia.
Just the other day, she sneaked up from behind and saw her mother placing an Amazon order. It happened to be an order for a highly-coveted Christmas gift. Alerted somehow to her precocious child, Jennifer quickly turned the situation to parental advantage and said, “Your dad and I were going to get you this for Christmas, but now that you have found out, I guess we won’t. If you still want it, you will have to write a letter to Santa and ask him.”
The letter was quickly written and dispatched and shortly thereafter, I received a request for the use of my very important Amazon Prime two-day free shipping account on behalf of Santa Claus. Click, click, done. The incident got me thinking back to when I was Chambless' age and my highly-coveted Christmas present was a Ginny doll, a hard plastic doll with jointed limbs and the availability of an extensive wardrobe of fashionable clothes.
Several weeks before Christmas, my mother sent me to get something for her from her bedroom. I had already demonstrated at that point the personality traits that more benevolent friends and family now describe as diligence and organizational skills (and which would ultimately lead to my self-diagnosis of OCD) and when I could not find whatever the now-forgotten object was whatever place Mama had indicated it would be found, I began searching in other places, intent upon not disappointing her by saying I couldn't find it. Being a first born is hard.
Inside Mama and Daddy's bedroom closet was a cardboard box, nearly as tall as I, in which Mama, a child of the Depression, kept remnants. She never threw any piece of fabric away, convinced that one day they could be used. And, in fact, most of them eventually were when she and Grannie made a quilt for me. Having exhausted every other location, I begin rummaging in the box.
About halfway down, I came across not the object for which I had been searching, but a Ginny doll. The realization of what the discovery meant was, I’m sure, both surprising and shocking, but I remember neither of those feelings, only the thought that I had to continue the search. When I finally located the object, I took it into the living room and presented it proudly to Mama, never saying the word about what else I had found.
I was an adult before I told anyone the story of how I came to know the truth about Christmas.
There is a song by John Lennon that begins with the lyric, “So, this is Christmas.” It always strikes me as wistful and just short of cynical, but also a little too true and I listen to it every year as a reminder that part of my celebration of this holy season has to include an examination of that truth, that if the season is to mean anything at all, we must acknowledge the reality, not just the ideal.
Which includes the fact that not every highly coveted gift is actually received, that sometimes we wish and hope and maybe even pray for something we don’t get, we can’t have.
Yet, it also means, once we learn that immutable fact, we tend to learn another, complementary one: that the central idea behind the season is not the gift-receiving, but the gift-giving. Which is why we adults go to such elaborate means (including facilitating letters to Santa and utilizing Amazon Prime) to see children be delighted by what they find under the tree.
And which is why – even in places ravaged by hurricanes and floods, in places where landmines are easier to find than Christmas lights, in places where most 5-year-olds know nothing of cornucopias and the plenty they represent — mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, doting aunts and uncles still wait with anticipation, with hope, with hunger for the brief respite afforded by the joy reflected on their children's faces Christmas morning.
I never told my parents that I no longer believed. I never will. Because I still do.