Fireplace with Stockings Hung

All this merriment is wearing me down.

Don’t get me wrong — I love Christmas. LOVE IT. That’s probably why I make it so difficult.

You see, I’m fairly certain none of my kids believes in Santa Claus anymore. The 9-year-old might be holding on by a thread, but he’d never admit it in public. Or in front of his ruthless siblings.

But me? Yup. I still believe.

Around here, we go by Gretchen’s motto: “If you don’t believe, you don’t receive.”

And so, even my 15-year-old has never uttered the words, “I don’t believe in Santa Claus” in a public space. There are iPhones and XBox games at stake, for heaven’s sake. He’s no dummy.

Thank goodness we dodged the “Elf on the Shelf” bullet. My kids were all a little older when he was envisioned, and by the grace of God, they never asked about him. I would have been a colossal Elf on the Shelf failure. I would have forgotten to move him, would have taken him to the bathroom and left him by the toilet, would have spilled red wine on his cheekily-grinning little elf face.

But still, I maintain some kind of magic over here. I — at the ripe old age of 41 — have never admitted to my own mom that I don’t believe in Santa. Because, truly, I still kinda do. In that, “Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus” kind of way.

There’s something innately magical about this season. Something happens around Christmastime that you don’t normally experience, say, in August. People are kinder, hearts are lighter, checkbooks are thinner. (Okay, that happens in August, too. Have you SEEN the price of back-to-school supplies lately??)

Today I read a story about a woman who paid off multiple lay-aways at an Indiana K-Mart. Inspired by her generosity, I paid for the gas of the car next to me at the Texaco. Please, there’s no need for oohs and aahs at this very, VERY tiny act of kindness. I felt compelled to do it (by a higher spirit, even, if you’ll not think me too woo-woo) — and I was thanking God every second that particular tank filled that it was an Accord and not a Suburban. Checkbooks are thin these days — we’ve already established that fact.

My point is that there’s something magical about a season built around such selflessness, such sacrifice, such unconditional love. People with big hearts inspire others. (And I’m not talking about me being an inspiration, I’m talking about me being inspired by the K-Mart woman. Just clarifying. Taken the wrong way, I might very well have sounded like a bit of a narcissistic Christmas pig.)

And, of course, I do have my festivity limits.

As Gus thumbed through yet another mail-order catalog tonight and added a few more things to his ever-growing list, I wanted to yell, “Son! Do you realize that it’s December 15th? Do you know that I’m shipping everything to Indiana and wrapping it all on the 23rd? Do you have ANY IDEA how expensive it is to overnight packages?? Or how much I’m going to have to drink to get through ALL this wrapping IN ONE DAY? Your request timer ran out about a week ago, Dude. Merry Christmas.”

I remember the thrill of that Sears catalog way back when, though. Granny would let us pick something — anything — from that inch-thick behemoth. It would take Carrie and me days to decide. DAYS. We’d play poker and learn a few dirty jokes at Granny’s in the interim, but ultimately, we’d decide.

The magic of Christmas.

And so, I can’t begrudge anyone else the thrill of the gift hunt.

I can, however, freeze the debit card in a giant block of ice and call it a day.

We’ll still have lots to celebrate when the 25th rolls around.

We already do.

Even in August. And May and February.

Yes, Virginia, there is.

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