July 3, 2008 · Updated 1:12 PM
"Twas the night before Christmas,when all through the houseNot a creature was stirring,not even a mouse; A Visit from St. Nicholas, CLEMENT C. MOOREBeyond the sights and sounds and tastes of the season, I love the words of Christmas the most and over the years I have built a Christmas library. It is modest, to be sure, but includes a collection of beautifully illustrated works that are both secular and religious in nature, capturing human kinds varied experiences with winter and wondering, caring and celebrating. I put it away every new year so it will be fresh and interesting the following Christmas.Early in December that strange urgency to nest and redecorate hits my household. I begin hinting to my husband, the Christmas box mover, that the time is right to bring the Christmas decorations down from the attic. I cue off our three kids, who begin talking about their favorite ornaments or the ways they plan to customize the outdoor decorations.While my husband takes command of the hauling (then dashes back to the garage to escape the colossal mess!), I grab my books and park it on the couch where I can watch the kids unpack and read my favorite selections. All around me Christmas emerges. Out come the Christmas village pieces, the ornaments, strings of tree lights, and the nativity scenes. Off the pages of my books spring the emotional magic, captured by some wonderful writers.Each year I am drawn to the generosity Saint Nicholas represents and I enjoy the charming tone of Clement Moores well-crafted poem. His portrait of words is in itself a gift that lives on and on. But it is merely the idea of Santa Claus that appeals to me. I was never drawn to the department store Santas and certainly never liked sitting upon their laps, much less revealing my deepest wishes.I have no idea how old I was but I distinctly recall peering out at Mr. and Mrs. Claus from the front seat of my familys Ford Falcon as my mother perused The Broadways parking lot in an attempt to find a parking space. The department store was the premier place to shop in my hometown during the Christmas season and their enormous display windows accommodated Mr. and Mrs. Claus handsomely. Time and again my mother would make the offer: she would stand in the long line with me and pay for a picture if I wanted to have a word with Old Saint Nick. I would get excited, claim great bravery, then decline once I got there, choosing instead to watch the others.My dear mother felt grilled, each and every year, for I never watched silently. I am known to think out loud and I would proceed with vigor: Why is there a Santa at The Broadway and Sears? Which one is the real Santa and why has he allowed a bunch of fakes to stand in his place? Who is making all those toys in the North Pole while Santa bounces kids on his knee down in Southern California? How do the toy orders make it back up to the workshop? How does Santa carry all those toys, much less deliver everything in one night?Needless to say, I quickly came to my own conclusions and never experienced a moment of trauma when truth overran fiction. Neither did I spoil anyones fun. I enjoyed the process of make believe and that was good enough for me.When my husband and I became parents and realized it was up to us to set the tone in our home during Christmas time, we majored in Christs birth and minored in Santa. I collected several manger scenes and placed them within reach so the kids could arrange and rearrange to their hearts content. I even started a small collection of Santas and have used the phrase, Isnt Santa fun! with our children as a symbol of generosity.When the Santa question inevitably arose we standardized our responses: Christmas is a celebration of Christs birth, but Santa is also there for those who do not believe as we do. Isnt Santa a whole lot of fun? That dialogue was always enough. There was never any trauma, only a message of tolerance mixed in with a little imagination.There is growing frustration among Christians these days. Many feel bridled by public law and misrepresented by media. I chose to carefully craft Christmas in our home so the true meaning shines bright no matter what happens around us. "