Although my son Andy has certainly enjoyed the festivities of his past Christmases (having turned four-years-old in November, this year is his fifth), this year is the first year that he has really shared in the overall anticipation of the holiday. Of course, a big part of that has been his first real understanding of the ideas and stories of Santa Claus.
My wife and I have really had a great time playing up the Santa story and helping him to build his excitement. A couple weeks ago, we sat down with him one evening and let him dictate the traditional letter to Santa. His requests were for “An airplane present”, “a blanket”, “paper” (he has been very into drawing and coloring lately), and “more presents”. We were especially amused that he has already learned to hedge his bets with the final “catch-all” request. This letter was written a couple evenings before a babysitter was coming over while we went out to finish our Christmas shopping. We took the letter along that evening and reported that we were going out to deliver it to Santa.
Of course, it was also important that he eventually get a chance to meet Santa himself and directly tell him when he wanted for Christmas. Prior to Andy starting pre-school, every Tuesday my wife used to take him to the Borders Book Store at Northridge Fashion Square for an excellent toddler story time. One week before Christmas, he was already out of school for the holiday, so she took advantage of the chance to take him back to Borders. It turned out that Santa paid a visit to the kids, providing a great chance for our son to meet him up close and for Mom to get a few pictures. Happily, he wasn’t intimidated at all by Santa and pretty much ran right up to him. I only wish that I hadn’t been working that day and could have been there for that myself.
For years, NORAD has tracked Santa, providing various media outlets with Christmas Eve updates on his location. Not surprisingly, they more recently went to offering this directly via a website and this year they teamed up with Google to offer a downloadable add-in for Google Earth, providing up-to-the-minute updates. We kept that running throughout the evening and shifts in the tracking were frequently accompanied by Andy excitedly asking “Where is Santa now?”
We also made a big deal of the other major traditions. On Monday afternoon, we retrieved Christmas stockings from the closet and made a big deal about hanging them up by the chimney. Even before we became parents, my wife and I have had an ongoing tradition where we would buy stocking stuffers for one another. Because of this, we have and hung up stockings for all three of us. During our daily reading time (we make it a point to read to Andy very regularly), we made it a point to read him “The Night Before Christmas” in order to once again reiterate the story. Finally, before heading on to bed, we made a big deal about putting out a plate of cookies and a glass of chocolate milk for Santa. It was funny that Andy initially kept insisting that “Santa doesn’t like cookies”, until we finally convinced him to put some out by telling him that he could have one too. My wife and I did make sure that there were only crumbs and an empty glass by morning…
After Andy was definitely asleep, Santa did deliver the gifts. Surprisingly, toy airplanes that are suited for toddlers are not easy to find right now, but Santa ended up bringing a fun little airport play set that was available from Kaybee Toys. This set included a die-cast airplane as well as various airport vehicles and signs. The set was available with logos from most of the major airlines. Santa brought the Delta Airlines version, since that was the airline we took for our recent Florida trip.
The request for a blanket was fulfilled with one featuring the characters Lightening McQueen and Mater from the movie “Cars”. Andy is a big fan of that movie and those characters, like most boys his age right now. In addition, the blanket nicely matches a bed-sheet set that he already had. The blanket was spread out on the floor and the other items were all put on top of it.
Santa also had one unexpected surprise gift for him. Our son is a big fan of the Playhouse Disney series “Little Einsteins” and one of the hot toys this year is Pat-Pat Rocket, an interactive toy that is based on the rocket ship from the series. Our son didn’t know about the existence of the toy, so he didn’t know to ask for it. It is something that he definitely is enjoying very, very much. This is a Target-exclusive product that was not particularly easy to find in-stock this year, so he was lucky that one of Santa’s elves happened to stop by a local Target store just as they were putting out stock one day…
Of course, he also got lots of other great presents and toys from other relatives and friends. One set of grandparents got him a remote controlled truck and a nice dress shirt. The other grandparents got him a toy workbench, which did provide our most challenging assembly project of the year. I suppose that is one of the way that grandparents have to get back at their own children for difficult tasks faced years earlier.
Gifts from friends included a Little Einsteins drawing pad (essentially a Magna-Doodle with some stencils and audio effects) and a Cars backpack, both of which he will enjoy quite a bit. He has actually gone through several Magna-Doodles over the last couple years as he uses them a lot and generally ends up wearing them out. He was at a point where he needed a new one and this one is a particularly good choice for him. The backpack is something that he will enjoy as well, probably using it quite a bit during our frequent trips to Disneyland and other theme parks.
My wife and I got him a LeapFrog Click-Start computer, which is essentially a toddler-targeted computer that hooks to the TV and is controlled by a wireless keyboard and mouse. We think this will provide him with a lot of fun as well as quite a bit of educational value. We also picked up some of the available game cartridges for the computer, wrapping up two of them (“Toy Story” and “Animal Art Studio”) as extra gifts under the tree. He has already gotten a lot of use out of this over the past several days since Christmas and is quickly getting pretty proficient with it. I think this will hold his interest for a long time, although I do hope that they continue to release more cartridges for it over time.
As much fun as it was, this wasn’t a perfect Christmas by any means. I woke up Christmas morning with a bit of an upset stomach and Andy’s stomach didn’t seem to be in the best shape that morning either. Because of this, we decided to call and postpone the reservations we had for a nice Christmas buffet (at the Universal City Hilton) until New Year’s Day instead. This turned out to be a good decision as I ended up really sick with a bad stomach bug by late in the day. That definitely wasn’t my preferred way to spend Christmas evening.
Despite that setback, we still really did enjoy this Christmas and it was a real joy seeing the holiday through Andy’s eyes. As you can probably tell from the contents of this post, Andy did focus primarily on the more festive aspects of Christmas (Santa, gifts, the Christmas tree, etc.) rather than the religious meaning behind the holiday. We did talk to him some about the story of Jesus, although the story is a bit hard to grasp for a 4-year-old mind. One thing I tried in particular was telling him that all the celebrations on Christmas were really a birthday party for an extremely important child that was born many years ago. While that probably was a bit overwhelmed by the more directly accessible to him parts of the holiday, I hope it did at least plant the idea of the holiday’s meaning in his mind.
Personally, I’m not really in strong agreement with those that argue that Santa Claus and gifts tend to overwhelm the holiday’s true meaning. While I think that can happen to some degree with adults, I basically believe that Santa is really a pretty child-friendly way of at least beginning to introduce the key messages that dominated Jesus’ teachings. Santa is a selfless individual who focuses his entire life on giving to others. Sounds pretty familiar to me.