When my kids were little, they knew that Santa was real and that he loved them and gave them wonderful things in their stockings. One time he even gave my little son a homemade man made out of yarn that I had tried to make a couple of weeks previously. My son noticed the difference in the quality between my lame attempt and the obvious superior craftsmanship of Santa's elves displayed in the red yarn man in my son's stocking. Those elves know what they're doing because they are a part of Santa's team. Mom just really couldn't compare with that--no offense to me, but magic is magic and mom is a mere mortal. Everyone knows that.
My kids also knew that Santa is not everywhere. There is only one Santa. Others may believe what they will, but this is what my kids knew.
So, when we would see a Santa ringing the bell asking for donations for the Salvation Army, my kids knew, as they dropped a few coins into the kettle, that that was only a man dressed up as Santa. He wasn't the real Santa. Santa is not walking around Very-Republican-Town, Illinois. He's up at the North Pole getting ready for Christmas Eve. He is exhausted and excited having the elves make all of the toys for the boys and girls all over the world. He is also not at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. We may have seen him there, but you know it's not him because you can tell that that guy is wearing a fake beard--it's so obvious. That Santa is there just so kids can get their pictures taken with him. It's just a photo op.
The Santa at Randhurst Mall, however, is real. While it's a very busy time at the North Pole, yes certainly it is, still, Santa wants to take a picture with whoever would like to actually meet him. And we know he's the real Santa because his beard is REAL. That's not fake and you can tell. This guy isn't the Woodfield wannabe, this is REALLY SANTA!! OH MY GOD!! How exciting is it to actually meet the magical man who has given joy to millions of children around the world for hundres of years?!
My kids went to Randhurst Mall and met Santa three years in a row. The third year there was some discussion, on the way home, that maybe he looked a little different than the previous two years. We had the photos to look at, and yes, maybe he looks a little different now, but maybe Santa ages in a magical way too. You never can fully figure out magic. Who are we to try and describe, define, quantify and limit the magic of Santa?
We have always left Santa cookies, milk and a note from the kids. Not only that, but we also always threw carrots up on the roof above our front door for a snack for the reindeer--they need sustenance too, we thought. My kids always excitedly looked to see Christmas morning that Santa had eaten the cookies and drank the milk--on the plate were a few crumbs and a couple of sips of milk were left in the glass. Outside, my kids could see shreds and chunks of carrot on the ground that the reindeer had dropped as they chomped up their snack. The physical evidence of the visit was overwhelming.
It was thrilling for the kids to talk to Santa. I liked to talk to him too. He was a nice man with a slightly sad, but mischievous look in his eyes. The third time we saw Santa, we chatted about various Christmasy things--Did we have a pretty Christmas tree up yet? Were we hoping for a snowy Christmas? Was Santa tired from all of the toy building? Were the reindeer ready to go? Did we always leave Santa a snack?
"Oh yes!" I said. "We always leave you cookies and milk." Santa looked at me for a moment and then said that he would prefer "A sandwich and some cocoa." Pause. Blink, blink. I looked into Santa's eyes and said, "Wouldn't you prefer what we always leave you--aren't you sure you'd rather have cookies and milk?" "Nope!" Santa said robustly with a smile. "I'd like a sandwich and cocoa!" He sat there grinning at me under his beard. I looked at him. The kids looked back and forth at him and me with their open, trusting, innocent eyes.
That Christmas we left the carrots on the roof for the reindeer. The next morning there were shreds and chunks scattered all over the ground. We were going to try to leave Santa some cookies and milk, but the kids remembered what he had said, and they knew he would prefer a sandwich and a cup of cocoa. So, I made cocoa and poured it into a cup and I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich--just a light snack for the guy. The next morning there were sandwich crusts on the plate and a few sips of cocoa left in the mug. Santa had come!!
The next year we didn't visit Santa at Randhurst Mall--we were too busy and we somehow never managed to get ourselves over there. The kids reminded me that he wanted a sandwich and cocoa, but I said that I thought it was probably just that one time. I knew he would want the cookies and milk again and wouldn't want me to go to all the trouble of making a sandwich and making homemade cocoa. He knew I had things to do to get ready for Christmas the next day. Santa was considerate and thoughtful like that.
When the kids woke up that Christmas, the plate had cookie crumbs and the glass had a couple of sips of milk left. Santa had come and all was right with the world. He even left a thank you note for the cookies and he hadn't missed the sandwich at all...