Letter From Santa Claus
Religion has never played a major role in our lives. My husband and I did not even discuss it before marriage, and although I had spent a number of years in a Catholic school, and was well versed in its ceremonies and teachings, I did not really think of myself as a Catholic. I prayed when I found myself in a church which was very often when we were travelling around Europe, and I also prayed in the temples of Bangkok when we lived there.
In my prayers, I was always addressing someone, a higher being, and so, I knew that I was not an atheist, and that I believed in one god who just happens to appear in different forms in various houses of worship. My thoughts on religion were not definite, but I was certain that I did not want to impose any particular one on M. She was free to choose whatever religion she wanted when the time came.
Many of M’s best friends in New York were Jewish girls, and frequent play dates between them with moms tagging along resulted in long-lasting friendships for me as well. We were invited to Passover dinners where we learned about the exodus of the Israelites from ancient Egypt, and joined in celebrating Hanukkah with M lighting a menorah candle and playing the dreidel game.
With both Hanukkah and Christmas being celebrated in December, the lobby of the building we lived in had a menorah and a Christmas tree, and it was not unusual for us to go from a Hanukkah gathering to a Christmas party.
What is God?
Fortunately, it was not another one of M’s questions. It was the title of a book I gave her.
When she came home talking about two of her friends attending Sunday school, I thought it was time to have a Mommy Talk on religion. Being no expert on the subject, I gave her a book with the “What is God?”
It was a book for children, but it introduced her to the major religions of the world, the well-known figures that represented them – Moses, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed – and the Holy Books of the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, the Sutras and the Vedas.
Religion was for M to decide, but I certainly did not expect her to come to a decision after reading one book in third grade. I was totally taken aback when she closed her book, and announced that she was going to have a bat mitzvah! Just like her Jewish friends in New York! And she can play the dreidel game with them every year!
And that was the last Mommy Talk we had on religion. M’s attention had shifted to another unseen all-knowing being – Santa Claus. Compared to the jolly old man in a red suit, God was easy to explain. At least I was not pretending to be him for the last several years.
We were not Christians, but that did not prevent us from celebrating Christmas in a big way. With the first day of December, a month-long celebration began in our home. Aside from the quilted cross-stitch Christmas tapestry that I made while living in Lagos, I had half a dozen cross-stitched Christmas stockings with our names hanging in the hallways.
In New York, the door to our apartment had a fresh balsam fir wreath that I bought from the Farmer’s Market in Union Square, and decorated with countless origami cranes. In the living room stood a seven-foot fresh pine tree that gave the whole apartment a pleasant forest smell. The only thing on the tree that was store-bought were the lights. Christmas ornaments that M made in school out of popsicle sticks occupied highly visible areas. And from the rest of the branches hung ornaments that I had made through the years. Angels from wooden clothespins and lace. Christmas doves from gold paper doilies. Green and red origami poinsettias. On one of our walks in the Bear Mountain State Park, I collected pine cones, which I then painted gold, and hung from the lamps with red satin ribbons. I considered myself the Japanese version of Martha Stewart.
For the first eight years of M’s life, Santa Claus was very much a part of our Christmas celebrations. He came each year with presents for M , and she never ceased to be amazed at how he knew exactly what she wanted. She could never remember which presents were from Santa, and which ones were from Mommy and Daddy, but she would always remember the letters. Santa never failed to leave a letter under the Christmas tree. And to prove that he kept up with the times, one year he even sent M an e-mail from my e-mail address!
Here is the letter Santa left on our first Christmas back in Japan.
I know that this year has brought you many changes…a new school and new friends, and a I am very happy that you have accepted all these changes with a very positive attitude.
Please continue to make the best of whatever comes along because when you grow up, you will realize that living in many countries, and experiencing many cultures make you a richer person in so many ways.
Thank you very much for your letter. You have always been kind and considerate towards others. I know that you do not like asking for things, and it is very important to say thank you, but if you really want something, you should ask your parents because if they can, they will give you anything you want.
Well, I hope that you have a happy holiday season. And remember, Christmas is not all about decorations and presents. It is what you feel in your heart.
It was after our second Christmas in Japan, on the first day of school after winter break that I sensed Santa was in trouble. Big, big trouble.
M came home from school with stories of how everyone spent their winter break, and what presents they received from parents, friends and relatives. She did not mention anyone in her class getting a present from Santa Claus, but she did talk about friends with younger siblings who did.
I knew that the day of reckoning for Santa had arrived.
That night, before falling asleep.
M: Mommy, Connor was making fun of the third graders who got presents from Santa.
Connor was the tallest and biggest boy in the grade.
Mommy: How was he making fun of them?
M: Well, he said that they were stupid for believing in Santa Claus. That Santa Claus was not real.
Mommy: Who did he say Santa really was?
M: Their moms and dads.
I was filled with sadness. I knew then that Santa would not be coming next Christmas.
Mommy: Well, what do you think?
M: I’m not sure.
Mommy: I’m not sure, too. I don’t know if there really is a jolly old man in a red suit living in the North Pole making sure that children like you get presents, but if he were real, I know that he would do everything he could to make all children happy on Christmas Day. I didn’t think that Santa could do everything on his own though, and that’s why we helped him. We bought your presents for him.
I remember making up things as I went along.
M: So Santa Claus is not real?
Mommy: I guess it all depends on you, M. If you believe in your heart that he is real, then he is. He may not be what you’ve always thought he was, but that does not make him not real.
I myself did not understand what I was saying, but I was desperate to spare M the grief of losing Santa.
M: Does that mean that I will no longer get Christmas presents?
Mommy: Of course not. You will always get Christmas presents from us.
M: OK. Good night, Mommy. I love you.
Mommy: Good night, M. I love you, too.
I could not believe my luck. M did not ask about the letters from Santa. She never did, but she kept them in her treasure box.