Once upon a time I had a nephew, he is still my nephew, but no longer the little boy he once was, with wonder in his eyes and a lively curiosity surging through his mind. He’s all grown up now and it’s a rare thing to occasionally see that old spark of amazement at the miracle of life flash through his eyes.
Age is the Scrooge of life that takes away our sense of awe, the ability to see a world in a grain of sand and hold infinity in one’s palm. Back then my nephew believed in witches and wizards, in magic and the truth of Santa Claus.
As often happens a day came when he challenged the existence of Jolly Old Saint Nicholas and the vision of sugarplums crashed to the floor. He was rather young for that to happen so soon and I wanted so much to see his sense of wonder again.
“Of course Santa Claus is real!” I declared.
“How can he be everywhere on the same night?” he challenged me, “I know Papa or someone dresses up and pretends to be Santa.”
I was afraid those sugarplums would never dance again. So I put on my best storytelling hat and looked at him in earnest. “I’ll tell you a secret,” I whispered. “It certainly appears to be that Papa, or your grandfather or someone seems to dress up as Santa, but here’s the thing. As they slowly wear those clothes, something happens deep inside their hearts and minds. When the inside vest comes on, they’re smiling, thinking ‘Oh what fun’, but by the time the red warm flannel coat is worn and the big black belt is strapped on, the spirit of Santa Claus enters their minds and then they are no longer Papa or someone else, they become Santa Claus. Just look into Santa’s eyes tonight and tell me if there isn’t a different twinkle in his eyes.” With that I left him to think about it.
Santa arrived to the family’s raucous renditions of Silent Night and Hark the Herald. Of course he couldn’t come down the chimney in India, so with a thumping on the door and a jingling of bells he called out, “Have the children here been naughty or nice?”
I caught my nephew’s eyes; they were shining like stars of wonder. Whether he believed in Santa or not, he was excited about his Christmas gifts. The jolly old man entered and was feted. His voice was loud and booming, his belly shook like a jelly. And then it was time for the magic… presents!
I hugged my nephew, “Look in his eyes,” I reminded him. When his name was announced he rushed up and gave Santa the obligatory kiss on his cheek but he did look in his eyes. He rushed back to show his present to his parents – no it wasn’t his dad that year.
Then he came across to me. “So who was it?” I asked.
“Santa!” he said, a wonderful smile spreading across his face, his eyes sparkling, “It can’t be papa, he’s here!”
“Did his eyes twinkle?”
“Do you think the spirit of Santa was in him, then?”
“Yes!” he declared.
And for another year at least, Santa was real.
It is many years since that Christmas so long ago and he probably doesn’t remember this little story of mine, but the other day he posted a photograph with his baby son in his arms. And I swear I could see sugarplums dancing in his eyes again.