The gnomes are out in our house. It happens every year at this time. Starting the first week of Advent a pocket-sized gnome appears. He shows up in our winter garden that we have made of moss and stones, and then he hides in a new place every morning. He is joined by a new gnome friend of a different hue each Sunday of Advent and they all hide around the house. Finally, all four of them end up in the manger on Christmas day, admiring baby Jesus with his parents. They are rascals, these gnomes, and our children delight in their antics.
As the kids get older, the inevitable question arrises: “Mom, are you moving the gnomes?”
As a young parent, I froze at the question. What do I do? I loved the sweetness of my child’s imaginary world and I wanted to preserve it for as long as possible. So, without thinking it through, I adamantly denied any gnome movement. I said something (seemingly) simple like: “Of course I don’t move them. The gnomes are magical.”
Life moved forward in our blissful, magical world until one fateful night I was caught in the act of gnome moving. There I was, standing on a chair, nestling those rascally gnomes into their new hiding place for the night, when I heard my boy’s small voice from behind me.
“You lied to me.”
I turned and looked into those huge eyes and I could see the full impact. In a matter of seconds, it was all destroyed; the little gnomes, Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy -all of them lay lifeless at my son’s feet. That may sound a tad dramatic, but it was a pivotal moment for my young son, and for me as a parent. I did lie to him. Damn, I never looked at it that way, but it was indeed a lie. Now I had to figure out why I lied, and explain the complicated answer to my little boy.
One of the benefits of having a bunch of kids is that you get some second chances. The oldest child benefits from getting both parent’s hyper-focused attention and delight in all of their actions, and youngest enjoys the luxury of having parents with much better training.
Part of my Christmas Magic Training came in the form of claymation. When I was growing up, the highlight of the season was the television Christmas specials. My all-time favorite was “The Year Without a Santa Claus” with it’s superstar, the Heat Miser (he’s too much). We don’t watch much t.v. with our kids, but I certainly make exceptions, and there was no way I was going to deprive my children of the Heat Miser. So, one December evening not long after the gnome incident, we all snuggled in and fired up the VHS player.
As a kid, I never understood why they tainted those wonders of animation with all the sappy songs. When the music inevitably started to swell, I would roll my seven-year-old eyes and let out a sigh. Now I had to endure four minutes of song and dance before they got back to the action! Geez! I usually used the time to run to the bathroom or get a snack of some sort. Thirty years later, the sappy song starts up and I feel the familiar annoyance rise in me. But this time, I stay put because now I have a baby on my lap. My older kids run to go pee.
Then a curious thing happens. I am actually moved to tears by claymation Santa and Mr. Thistlewhite. The message of their song is truly beautiful and exactly what I was trying to articulate to my six-year-old just a few nights before, when the magical gnomes were reduced to simple stuffed toys. I glance at my boy to see if he is taking in the profound words of Mr. Thistlewhite, but he is flat on his back, eyes avoiding the screen, waiting for the moment the Heat Miser will return.
No matter. I had learned something. I didn’t need to lie to my kids about the magic of Christmas. This time of year is truly magical, all on it own. The magic comes from love, just like Mr. Thistlewhite said. It is love that makes me pull those damn gnomes out of the box year after year. It’s love that urges us to buy gifts for others and wrap them in pretty paper. It is love that brings us together to celebrate.
I still have young children, so I continue to get the cynical questions about magic. But now, with thirteen more years of parenting under my belt, I have mastered the art of wide eyes full of wonder with the corresponding excited smile. I don’t outwardly admit anything and I don’t deny it either. When I’m called in to see where the gnomes turned up, I just widen my eyes and smile. When our milk turns green on Saint Patty’s day, I widen my eyes and smile. Easter eggs, teeth transformed into dollar bills: big eyes, big smile. If this isn’t enough for the child that “needs to know the truth”, I tell them that I am a helper, for sure. Everyone needs a little help once and a while. But I also try to convey that believing is a choice. They can choose to scrutinize every little bit of magic in their lives, or they can choose to relax into it and just enjoy the fun of it, without all of the questions. It is totally up to them.
But whatever they choose in the end, I hope they all understand the basic lesson: Love creates magic. Plain and simple. End of story.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Let Santa convince you…
“Look at me and tell me son, what is real to you?” ~claymation Santa
‘Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.” ~from New York’s Sun, 1897