Santa’s last kiss.


Christmas 2013? Bittersweet.

The family was fabulous. The gifts were a hit. The spirit was festive and joyous. So much so that the tree is still standing. Fully decorated in the living room. Long past our usual take-it-all-down date of December 26th.

This is not the first difference of 2013. It’s been a year of tween-hood changes. So maybe it is fitting that Christmas Eve was no exception. But to understand the transition, first you need to know the tradition…

Every Christmas Eve, just as in all the households around the globe where Santa is expected, he left a gift or two at our house when I was a little girl. But he also did a little bit more. At our house, you see, Santa would sneak into our rooms and kiss our foreheads, leaving behind a faint sooty smudge.

The mark of magic.

And first thing every Christmas morning my brothers and I would push and shove {you can only be good for so long} our way to the mirror to check for Santa’s kiss. And every year, it was always there. Always.

And as the decades passed, Santa found us at our new addresses and kissed our children, too.

And our children would race to the mirror and try to be the first to see the kiss. But not this year. This year only Eleanor eagerly bounded into the bathroom. Cole hung back. Filled with uncertain certainty. Here’s why…

As you may imagine, one of the adults in the household needs to remain awake to ensure all the children are asleep. For Santa’s kisses can only come through dreams. {or, as Eleanor would say “Because, duh. Santa can’t kiss you if you are awake.”}

This is where our story gets complicated.

This year, Cole didn’t sleep.

9:00 p.m.            wide awake. no surprise.
10:32 p.m.          came and went. eyes wide open.
12:46 p.m.          my husband gave up and came to bed for his own shut-eye.
4:00 a.m.            the alarm goes off. because surely now the boy is asleep.

Except that he wasn’t.

But he faked it. Almost well enough. The first thing from my husband Christmas morning wasn’t “merry merry” with a giant smile, but a solemn “I think he knows”.

Cole’s knowing has been a long time coming. He is, after all, in 7th grade. But he has held true to the magic all these years and found ways around real-world doubt. In the early years there was his elaborate explanation of how Santa had a key to everyone’s back door, since so many no longer have chimneys. Then, in late elementary school he announced that parents must pay Santa for gifts. Because Santa is far too nice to choose to give poor children small gifts and rich children extravagant ones.

The last grasp was the kiss. He explained to us that while his friends no longer believed, he did. Because there was no way to explain the kiss, so Santa must be real.

So this year, while other children stayed awake waiting for the magic, I think Cole was awake with worry. Torn between the beliefs of childhood and the realities of growing up. Wanting to be in-the-know, yet not wanting to know at all. And so he stayed up. All night.

And at 4:01 a.m. when his door opened in the dark, he closed his eyes. He feigned sleep. Almost well enough for a bleary-eyed parent to believe.

In the morning the first thing he said to me was “I was awake. I know.”

The rest of Christmas unfolded as it always has- with stockings and presents and candy canes and love…

But this year Cole saw through the lights and music. He understood it in a new way. He watched it all differently. He was, for the first time, both an observer and a participant. For Cole, it was half-magic.

And I think that is why the tree is still up. I’m not yet ready to let go of his childhood. I want to stay, hoping the magical half will linger. The truth, however, is that Santa’s kiss will never be the same.

Yes, he will continue to leave his sooty regards. But my guess is Cole will never again be awake to experience it. He will sleep a dreamless sleep on Christmas Eve. The sleep of someone who holds knowledge, not wishes.

So Christmas is half-magic for me now, too. There is an ache that accompanies a child’s coming of age. And I still don’t know what to say. All I could do Christmas morning after he announced his discovery was give him a hug. And a kiss of my own.

What do you do? How do you handle the lasts? As your child leaves behind magic and walks towards knowing, what do you say? I’d love to know. Keep me posted.


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