It will come to an end. I know, someday, it will come to an end.
But for now, as another Christmas arrives, we shall revel in the wonder and the excitement and the joy that only a 7-year-old can bring to the holiday. There have been weeks of countdowns, moments of anticipation accompanied by questions such as, “Dad, do you know what’s in 29 days?” or declarations such as, “I can’t wait until 12 more days.” And the daily prodding makes you happy that he didn’t pull the calendar off the wall and start counting in, say, April.
Yet while Dad’s typical sarcastic response is something like, “You mean for the day before Monday?” or “Because the Buckeyes will be playing six days after that?” deep down, there is an appreciation for the childhood wonderment of the season. A sly hidden smile. A soft, silent chuckle. A heart-warming thrill over how somebody small can bubble with so much excitement.
The fulcrum to all this, of course, is Santa Claus. And that places a 7-year-old in a precarious position.
You see, there’s little doubt that he knows the truth, knows that Santa exists only in our hearts and that the presents appear under the tree through some more earthly means; having siblings who are 11 years older and 6 years older tends to obfuscate some of the world’s mysteries.
And yet the 7-year-old is not quite secure enough to confidently reveal the depth of this knowledge. It’s better to hedge your bets, after all, than risk the possibility of being wrong or admitting that the world is less magical than you hope.
In that regard, it is reminiscent of my own childhood.
I had a friend who was 15 months younger and whose grandparents lived next to us. When I was maybe 6 and he was about 5, I reveled in my far superior maturity and revealed what I knew about Santa. Grandmother was not happy with me, but somehow my friend and I remain close nearly 45 years later.
That, I suppose, is part of the magic of Christmas. It is unique and personal, comprising individual memories accumulated over the years.
And yet there is a universal quality to it. Millions of people can identify with a 7-year-old’s anticipation of Christmas or with playing the role of curmudgeon to spoil the innocence of the season.
And so we leave cookies near the fireplace and spread reindeer food on the lawn — oats with a touch of glitter so the reindeer can see it in the moonlight. And the older kids gladly play along to humor their younger brother, quietly recalling the thrill of their own not-long-ago innocence.
The loss of innocence
Which brings us to the point of this introspection — the loss of innocence.
Author Patrick Rothfuss once wrote: “When we are children we seldom think of the future. This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can. The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.” And while I have never heard of Patrick Rothfuss and I give thanks for Google searches such as “quotes about innocence,” that seems to sum it up rather neatly.
There is a carefree element about childhood that is particularly evident at Christmas and causes the magic of the season to be self-perpetuating.
Our oldest went through it, and then our middle one (“It’s a Force Action Lightsaber! It’s a Force Action Lightsaber!”), and now the youngest.
And through the years, they have kept their parents feeling young while allowing Mom and Dad to retain a small snippet of our own innocence. There are, indeed, benefits to having your kids spread out in age, as those glorious moments that are universal to childhood play out over and over.
Yet, someday, it will come to an end. The youngest will begin fretting about the future and things will be different. Not better or worse, but different. And we shall lament the passing of these days of innocence.