Some of my most vivid holiday memories surround garland-laced sanctuaries and candlelit services in the small rural churches I had grown accustomed to attending. Singing the hymns of the season while fantasizing about the true reason, a child sent to redeem the world, with humble beginnings, growing with power in every word, created a hope for me. A hope that the future would entail great progress and satisfaction because of my choices and decisions. The hope of receiving the gift many times was the result of not fully walking the line of doing good, but came because of pure grace more times than not. Beginning in my childhood the thought of a magical figure sneaking into my home, eating the cookies and fruit and drinking the milk we left, leaving behind a cherished gift, would be a secondary yet important concept of my childhood.
With anticipation brewing like a monumental volcano ready to explode, I would find myself preparing for the perfect series of days and nights in preparation for the chubby old man’s arrival. Attempting to ensure his satisfaction, my sister and I would decide upon the choice refreshments which would surely satisfy his evident hunger from racing around the globe ensuring that all the worlds “good kids” awoke to a beautifully placed gift, personalized just for them.
Getting to sleep was difficult as every sound was surely good old Saint Nick making his appearance upon his bell-adorned sleigh pulled by the most magnificent reindeer herd in modern history. I recall one year being certain that my sister and I heard the sleigh bells ringing and a thump on the roof, deep in the night, leaving us with the certainty that Santa had made his appearance. Rushing to the living room in hope to finally catch a glimpse of Santa Clause, our eyes caught the smiling eyes of my father, inquiring as to why we remained awake. No amount of explaining about the bells or thump convinced Dad. Rather he cautioned us to hurry to bed, so we didn’t scare Santa away. Looking back, Dad’s smile told the tale and revealed the true source of the sounds we were hearing. It was merely a simple gesture by he and mom, intending to add to their children’s fantasy.
As many years have past since my own childhood memories of the season were so vividly brought to life, I find myself playing the role of father. I now have the time-honored responsibility of ensuring that my children not only understand the true reason of the Christmas season in all its glory, but also are afforded the joy of experiencing the fantasy of a magical Christmas season where a chubby old man runs around in red suit shouting greetings, leaving gifts, and having a snack before directing his beautiful sleigh and magnificent beasts across the night sky. In doing so, I can merely hope that I fulfill my responsibility as my own mother and father had, perfectly, yet humbling. With grace and excitement for their children. For if I accomplish this, I truly can fulfill the magic of the Christmas season while instilling within my children the truth and joy of both worldviews.
For all the grandmas, and grandpas, mothers and fathers who tirelessly work towards ensuring the most fragile members of our society experience the joy of the season, we say thank you, you truly are our heroes.
Richard J. Stephens lives in Carter County and is the father of three little ladies ranging in age from eight to 29.