- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Our Santa act peaked in 1997.

That year, with four children ages 8, 6, 3 and newborn, we pulled out all the stops to convince our young brood that a bearded man in a red, fur suit had, in fact, magically popped down our chimney to reward their good behavior with toys and treats.

Santa used his own special gift-wrap - hidden away from the rest of the wrapping paper to foil any deductive reasoning (not that the children employed any, but we took no chances).

He filled out the gift tags in his characteristic penmanship - very different from mom’s handwriting, to be sure, with a pen that could not be traced to the top drawer of her desk.

He left crumbs near the fireplace from the cookies he dutifully ate, but just to be coy, he didn’t finish his milk. He took the carrots the children left out for his reindeer, and wrote a note saying, “Thanks for the snack! Be good this year! Love, S.C.”

Best - and most convincing of all - he and his reindeer left pieces of carrot on the roof above our front porch - evidence that the jolly elf had taken them up the chimney and fed them to his hungry team.

That year, I did most of my shopping at the toy superstore, and Christmas morning began long before dawn with a chorus of “Jingle Bells” followed by squeals and surprises.

If you had tried, in 1997, to convince our children that Santa Claus was simply a charming myth, and that the role of Santa was, in fact, played by their loving, if slightly compulsive, parents, they’d have pummeled you with sugar cookies.

They knew better. They had proof.

Fast forward 11 years. Wednesday is Christmas Eve, and our four children are debating what time they will get up tomorrow morning to enjoy the fun of gift giving.

Some think 10 a.m. is too early. One thinks we should wait for the last person in the house to awaken on her own, but I’ve nixed that idea on the assumption we’d be holding off until nearly 3 in the afternoon. We won’t observe “College Standard Time” on Christmas Day.

It’s worth noting that much about the way we celebrate Christmas has changed. I never set foot in the mega-toy store. I didn’t need the value-pack of batteries.

On Christmas morning, there won’t be many surprises under our tree. Given the economy, we cut back and instead have told our children that this year’s gifts will come in the form of money for textbooks and a long-planned trip abroad, clothes to keep up with a teenager’s incessant growth rate, and a camera to replace one that was lost on a field trip last spring.

It seems impossible that in only 11 years, we’ve gone from the squealing, Santa-filled “magic” of an early morning to one that requires a full pot of coffee and several cups.

And yet, I’m not nostalgic because we’re celebrating something far beyond mere “magic” - something that is truly a mystery of love.

For, through all those years when my husband and I played Santa, we taught our children that Christmas celebrates God’s love for us - a love so insuperable and inexplicable that He took our human form and then suffered and died for our sins to assure our redemption.

If we only ever gave our children one, most precious gift, it’s the faith in a Savior born on Christmas Day. That’s so much more than “magic.”

Merry Christmas.

Visit Marybeth Hicks at www.marybethhicks.com.

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