The other day we had some family guests in to help trim the tree. Of course, in my world you can't have guests without things like cheese and crackers, some kind of meat like soppresata, maybe some hummus, grapes, an apple slice or two. So later that evening, when I asked my husband what he wanted for dinner, and he replied "that meat and cheese" it was just a natural comeback to quote the line from ELF: "You're not Santa! You smell like beef and cheese!"
How much we take for granted that children who believe in Santa have a kind of deeper recognition of all that means. I mean, in the case of the movie, the elf knows the smell of him. And the elves symbolize all that is innocent and childish in the world. Santa becomes not just a real person for our kids, but blossoms for adults into something (as Dr. Seuss says) just a bit more.
One of my other nephews is at that crucial point in his life where he wants desperately to believe in Santa, but I think his own understanding of the world, and maybe comments from kids at school, is prompting him to question.
It's a miserable place to be in, as an adult. You see how happy the concept of Santa makes him. You want him to be a child as long as he can in a world where his interactions are mostly with adults, and where society is forcing our kids to age too quickly. You hope that he has the capacity for fantasy, and belief, and imagination. But you also deeply fear that some kid- whether obnoxious or well-meaning- at school is going to burst the bubble, shatter the dream, kill the hope and the expectation of what Santa can mean to a little boy.
He wrote a letter to Santa again this year. It listed all the things he hopes to get for Christmas. Included in the list, among the video games and bey blades, is a request for "three bean bag chairs". Why three? So his two cousins can sit with him to play racing games on the xbox when they come over to visit. His sincerity and generosity warmed my heart. And then I read on.
"p.s." I was a good boy this year.
"p.p.s." Please wake me up when you get here.
This Advent, what are our hopes and expectations? Are we also looking back on the year to reflect on who we have been, on the merits of our actions, the attitudes of our hearts?
More than that. Maybe it's not really about Santa, but there's an underlying Truth even in the Santa phenomenon. In just a few weeks, Christ comes. He has come, is coming, will come again. And all I can think is that I want to be awake when He gets here too. I want to live in the expectation that -yes- he will be born again on that day. And -yes- he is coming here, to me, to us, again. And -yes- I want to be AWAKE when He comes this year... not lulled into a sense of comfortable ritual or blase gestures.
Perhaps this is a good time for us adults to check our own sense of smell, as it were. Maybe it's not a Santa, peppermint-and-eggnog kind of smell we await. But perhaps there is a smell of holiness that can awaken our senses, if we only are alert enough to recognize it, with the same longing and openness of a child. And we share this very holiness, this coming of the Christ Child, in the same spirit of generosity and love as my nephew, with hearts, as Christ told us, like children.
And, yes, I bought all three bean bag chairs. Because with a letter like that, how could you not?