It's unanimous in my house. Elf is one of our favorite holiday movies. There is something contagious about Buddy the Elf. This endearing character played by Will Ferrell loves everything sweet, musical and exciting about Christmas. Why does it tickle the belly of both kids and adults when we see a grown man in an elf suit, smile so wide, sing so loud and love everything about the world around him? I think it brings us all back to when we were young enough and naive enough to smile, sing and love as much as he does. The arrival of Santa still brings sheer joy, or "electric butterflies," as my son calls them, and Buddy shows us again, what it's like to truly believe.
As a parent, I now understand how much thought and planning it took to create the magic and wonder of Santa Claus when I was young. This was especially tricky since Santa Claus actually came to see us, in person, on Christmas Eve. He would visit us each year at my grandparents farm in Templeton, Iowa. The arrival of this very special guest took the coordination and a few well crafted lies by every adult in the family.
As children we just KNEW Santa had us on his route, but there were a few things we needed to do to help Santa and his sleigh find its way to us in the middle of Iowa farm country. We had traditions to make sure Santa didn't do an accidental fly over and completely miss us. We would first take reindeer food out past the barn. After we got back to the house, the adults would tell the grandkids to go downstairs and play. The last thing we usually heard was "close the door and don't come upstairs." We were clueless of what might be going on upstairs, but we didn't care. We were with our cousins and it was Christmas!
At some point, our grandma (or designated adult) would come downstairs. The lights would magically dim as she let us know that we "better start singing, and to sing loud because Santa should be flying over soon." We would gather and start the marathon of loud Christmas songs. Buddy the Elf says, "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear," and we sang LOUD! We couldn’t risk singing too soft and allow Santa to fly right past us! It was at this time that my Grandpa would be getting into his Santa suit upstairs.
JINGLE ALL THE WAY!
JINGLE ALL THE WAAAAY!
The adults would start filing down the stairs and join in the singing and then all the sudden...BAM BAM BAM on the window! "HO! HO! HO!" Okay, so Santa didn’t come down the chimney in Iowa, but we didn’t care. At Christmastime, those details don’t really matter when you truly believe.
Screams and giggles and more singing!
Picture the excitement of Buddy in the movie when he sees Santa in the department store!
Santa is HERE! He’s HERE! He found us, again, (like he does every year)!
It was truly magical. We would all try to be the best helper, getting Santa to his special chair and helping him with his big bag of gifts. It's amazing how we never noticed that Grandpa was conveniently absent during this time. Santa would ask us to say a few prayers and to sing a couple of our favorite Christmas songs. We would again sing as loud as we could while Santa danced and shook the loud jingle bells.
I remember the year I discovered the truth about Santa. It was like an out of body experience as I watched myself sitting on the edge of the fireplace hearth, not taking my eyes off my grandpa who was buried underneath that big white beard, red hat and wire rimmed spectacles. I couldn't take my eyes off him. How did I not notice his bright blue eyes that crinkled on the edges or hear his distinct voice when he said my name? It must have been the magic of the season that protected my belief and allowed me to experience the magic of Christmas in the most special way.
I remember being sad that year, and maybe just shy of being devastated. I think of that moment now as my youngest of four boys is getting to the crossroads of Santa. He is ten years old and believes 100% that Santa lives at the North Pole. He's made his list and talks of Santa and Christmas in the most innocent and sweet way. As his mom, I too am at a crossroads. Do I allow him to believe until the fog of childhood Christmas magic is lifted or do I sit him down and have "the talk"? The "Santa Talk" is harder for me than "The Talk." At least during "The Talk" we get to laugh and giggle about weird body stuff. "The Santa Talk" makes me sad.
I get a little melancholy each time one of my boys discovers the truth about the man in red. Each son usually shifts into the big kid world before I realize it. All of a sudden the magic of Santa has faded and their keen perception and sound reasoning skills kick into high gear. Before I know it, they have figured everything out...like I once did. With a knowing smile, I continue each year as if they still believe. My husband can talk details about Santa, but I like to continue knowing that we all still believe in the magic of Christmas, because I’m hoping that we all do in our own way.
Santa still comes to visit each Christmas Eve. The kids go downstairs, the lights are dimmed, and the stage is set so Santa, now my dad, can make his grand entrance. Just like my grandpa did, my boys' grandpa continues the magic of this rich and very special tradition. As he did 40+ years ago, Santa needs helpers to find his special chair, he spends time catching up with each child, asks to hear a prayer or two and always requests his favorite songs. Rudolph and Santa Claus is Coming to Town are crowd favorites, but it’s always Jingle Bells that tops the list. Just as he did when I was a young girl, Santa sings along, dances a little, and always shakes those jingle bells to the beat.
The sweet story of The Polar Express tells us, "The only people who can hear the bell's ringing are those who still believe in Santa." I still hear the bells. They represent memories of my grandpa, Santa and my childhood, and now the tradition that my dad shares with my boys.
Though I’ve grown older, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.
Do you hear it?
Jacqui Slater Lawrence