I did not know that the sugar cookie recipe called for orange zest, so I had to run back to the store. Yep, that sugar cookie recipe that I mentioned the other day…we’re making Grandma’s sugar cookies tonight and the kids are decorating so they can take them in the morning the Children’s church workers. They are, well, children-decorated. You can tell the kiddos did the work. We’ll do some more that are a little more, well, less “sprinkly”
Back to the story, though. I didn’t know it called for orange zest, so I had to run quickly to the store. The show ‘This American Life’ was on NPR, telling stories of how people celebrate Christmas across our country. The story I caught made me stay in the car in the parking lot at the store…it was a story about parents who made Christmas amazingly magical. The children, now around 30, were telling the story. Telling of the elf that lived in the attic before Christmas: they could hear him working wood up there, hammering and sawing. They would go up and find wood chips after Christmas. Their uncles and Dad would tell of how this elf could do great mischief, sharing stories of the past.
Then, they told of Christmas morning when the rather bedraggled looking Kris Kringle showed up. One of the boys said it felt a bit like they were helping him out; that he had had a tough night and they were giving him a little bit of rest before he went on his way. Then, one year they were walking near the golf course by their house and they saw someone ahead of them hiding behind the trees. Their father encouraged them to go and catch him. They did, and found another of the Santas, this one Klaus. His clothes were a little worn and he had a bag of toys. Well, sort of. He pulled out vegetables and finally bones. Telling the children that the bones were from Rudolph and it was what he used to call the reindeer.
Then the children, who had been 2, 4 and I think 8, told how this Santa, Klaus, asked them if they wanted to go on a sleigh ride to the North Pole. Only, it could only be the kids…no adults. And all three kids told how they were scared to death, even though a part of them wanted to go. Only, that part didn’t happen. Turns out the “Santa” never invited them on a sleigh ride…it was a suggestion of their dad when they were talking late that night.
The story goes on, talking about when they finally found out that all of this was an elaborate…very elaborate…ruse that their parents had developed. It was part of the story of their childhood and led to many discussions and a myth that their childhood chased after.
I was completely caught up in the story…laughing out loud in the parking lot. I was completely caught up in the lengths they went to in the attempt to create something magical and filled with wonder and imagination and surprise. The capers of the Santas, because they believed there were several different ones working together, became part of the lore of the family. To the point that the oldest boy defended Santa to his Junior High class and got in trouble, and even later blamed his parents for his inability to trust. He laughed about it as well, though.
So, here is what struck me. As I sat and listened to this really delight-filled story, I watched the people coming and going from the store. Heads down, furrowed brows, heavy hearts. There was not much wonder or joy or delight.
It seems to me that children grab hold of stories of delight and wonder and they cling to those stories. I have friends who do the Elf on a Shelf, and I know their kids look forward to the antics. It is part of their lore. Our oldest just really came to grips with Santa not being real…but now he is excited about being in the lore himself and helping to keep it alive for his siblings.
In a world where terror is very real and where fear is easy to imagine, I think it is important to give our children a framework of fantasy and wonder and imagination. These stories, whether it be Santa or the Hobbit or Star Wars or Cinderella, they enlarge our children’s imaginations. They open their eyes to something beyond what is before their eyes. The create a lore for their childhood. When they hear their parents talking about the stress of some fiscal cliff, or they hear of children slaughtered in their classroom, or they hear of 9/11…they may not understand, but even the innocent little ones in our midst get the glimpse that there is something bad out there. These stories…they tell the children that there is also great good, and that that good is strong and creative and surprising.
“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” G.K. Chesterton.
I do not think that the story of the Gospel, or the story of Creation, or the story of Easter is diminished because we played around at the stories of Santa and the dragons and the hobbit. Rather, I think the mark of our Maker is a great creativity and imagination…and as we create a framework for wonder and surprise our children find that the greatest surprise and the greatest wonder is that the most amazing story….
We play at Santa and we play at fairy tales, but the reason we keep coming back to them is we have this itch we cannot scratch…this desire for there to be someone, something, that puts it all right. Someone who rescues or who simply knows that we are lonely and we are desperate to know someone cares and will save us.
And the Incarnation, the Gospel….Jesus…tells us that that itch can be scratched. That ache we have to be known and to be saved…it can be fulfilled. The fantasies keep our attention and keep us coming back because they hint at the truth. Santa is fun to play at, but ultimately the truth of the Incarnation brings us to our knees.
So, I hope that I can have an inkling of the creativity of the family I listened to today. I hope that I can live in a way that inspires imagination and fun and wonder and creativity….but I also hope that as we laugh and giggle and tell stories the children catch when the hush comes over our voice and we proclaim…Unto us is born this day….in the City of David…A Savior…who is Christ the Lord.