Thursday, December 15, 2011

Proud to Be a Level Four Santa

I believe in Santa Claus. I believe in people.

Believe means different things, doesn’t it? And sometimes, we instantly know it. Like saying, “I believe in people.” Well, obviously, I’m not talking about existence, that seems to be a foregone conclusion. People exist.

“I believe in people” means something more, something positive.  The writers of the Bible would use a figure of speech called ellipsis, in which they would omit certain words for effect. It’s an unfinished circle, that we tend to automatically fill in with meaning.

So part of what I would fill in is that I believe in people, that they can be generous beyond your imagination, loving to complete strangers, extenders of awesome grace.

Santa Claus embodies this instinct we have toward compassion.

Children, if they are being raised by someone who loves them, assume this. If you tell a 3 year old “People are good and often want to help,” they will look at you blankly. Of course they are! In the same way they will always say that the bigger glass has more liquid in it than the short cup, no matter the opposing evidence, it is part of their logic that grownups are good people.

To tell a 45 year old the same thing is to invite debate, a debate that has raged for the ages, through the Christian scriptures, Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, and all those other “original sin” themed books they made us read in High School.

I am here to tell you – people are good. And they will overwhelm you with their willingness to make things better for others.

We share our belief in Santa Claus with our children. There are different levels to this, and so we divide it up into what we feel is developmentally appropriate for them to understand.

It astounds me that so many people stop at the first level. And at a certain point, they learn that it’s “wrong,” and that’s that. It’s done.

Don’t they know, it’s only the introduction!

Level One Santa is the symbolic embodiment into one person: he lives at the North Pole, says “Ho Ho Ho,” and comes down the chimney. He gives without ever expecting anything in return. He brings presents to children simply because he loves them.  Oh sure, there are rumors of coal in stockings … but no one actually knows anyone who got that.

Myths grow and become more personal in each family; ours is no exception. With our first, it was decided that it was appropriate to ask Santa for three things (which you may or may not get). Rather early on, our son decided that the things Santa brought that he didn’t ask for were always way better than the things he did. Thus began the tradition he passed down to his sisters. “Ask for two things, but leave it up to him for the third thing – he always knows better!” As the children get older, they tend to even go farther, only asking Santa for one thing, or even nothing. They are learning about trust – trust that if you are open, and willing, you may receive gifts beyond what you know to ask for.

It is an exciting time, with our Level One Santa kids. They go outside to find chewed up carrot tops left by the reindeer, they receive personal letters from Santa a couple of days before Christmas. All of we Level Twos or above are on alert – to listen to the conversations, the casual remarks, the longing looks. And somehow, that Santa inspiration comes through, when suddenly we know what to pull out of the magic bag. Christmas morning arrives and “How did he know I wanted this???”

A personal letter from Santa – all our children receive them, regardless of age. Santa talks about their past year, what he’s noticed, what to work on, how much he loves them.

And then, one year, when they’ve had a lot of questions, and it is right … they receive a letter telling them that on the day after Christmas, they are to reach under their pillow, and there will be a special letter there that answers all their questions.

They are ready to become Level Twos.

Level Two is where you become privy to the giant mystery, the fabulous conspiracy that is Santa. You are entrusted with the secret, that Santa is SO much bigger than you imagined, that you, in fact, get to be Santa, too. The entire framework is laid out and you can see how far-reaching it is, how much more profound it is than a man coming down a chimney. People are so wonderful, that all over the world, they will go to great lengths to ensure that others have a magical Christmas. NORAD … the North American Aerospace Defense Command! – puts up video and a website so that families all over the world can track Santa’s progress. People go to the post office to pick up letters from children who have written to Santa, to actually fill some of those requests, out of their own wallet! Movies made, books written, collections taken up, all to make magic for the most powerless among us. Children.

To become a Level Two is not automatic. It is a choice. You may decide to just close the door, believe that “there is no Santa Claus.” Or you can make the choice to join in, to become a Level Two Santa.

A Level Two is someone who supports the Santa Claus efforts, promoting the wonder, keeping the mystery. Level Twos learn to listen intently, while looking casual; they pay attention to such things as what kind of thing a child plays with, what characters they like, their favorite colors.  They themselves make magic, helping to put out the gifts on Christmas Eve, eating a cookie (but leaving crumbs on a plate).

Level Three is when you become Santa for the child in your life – your daughter, your nephew, your grandchild. You give, and receive no credit. No thank-you’s.  It’s worth it, to be part of this magic.

Level Four is when you become Santa for someone not as close – an elderly neighbor, a friend, a stranger, a name on a tree. The recipient can’t know who you are, of course. If they did, you wouldn't be Santa. So there is much whispering and giggling; it is an appropriate time for secrets and ringing doorbells and running away.  And yes, you can become a Level Four before becoming a Level Three!

Level Five is the top. This is the person who becomes the embodiment of Santa (or Mrs. Claus) themselves. They put on, or grow, the beard, put on the red hat, perfect their Ho-Ho-Ho.  They wave from parades, hold squirming babies on their laps for pictures.  

Too old for Santa Claus? Ah, no. For us, the question is, “Is Jane old enough for Santa Claus?” As a Level One, she only knows the door. It’s a beautiful, magical door … but beyond it lies grandeur and awe she can’t even imagine.

And she is a part of it all.


ms. kitty said...

Wonderful, LE! Can I use it for my Christmas Day service? What a reflection on faith development!

Lizard Eater said...

So glad you like it! Yes, please use any of it you would like ... but be careful of little pitchers! (Another sacred duty of a Level Two and above Santa.)

ms. kitty said...

I will be careful!

Jess said...

I love you. :-)

Sara said...


RJ said...

I have been mulling over this exact topic, of invocation of the Christmas spirit and multiple instantiation of the platonic Santa... thanks for laying it out so perfectly!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. You've given me a lot of food for thought. I wonder, though, if you'd share one of your day-after-Christmas letters.

I think the timing may be right for my daughter--maybe a New Year's rite of passage. My sister's family has a tradition of telling their kids at age 9 (which has always seemed a little old, though it's different for all kids). They told their youngest a month ago, and though I was tempted to tell my daughter now, frankly, I don't want to ruin my niece's chance to keep the secret from (and for) her cousin, my daughter, who is a bit over a year younger.

But I do think my daughter is ready, so telling her right *after* this Christmas might be perfect. Since there are no younger siblings or cousins for her, I've been sad to think she'll have nobody to keep the secret for. So maybe next year we could fulfill a kid's Santa letter or adopt a family from an angel tree. Things are kind of tight now, but we could spend all year saving up for it.

But how to convey this, in a letter or otherwise, has me boggled. I don't want to add to the deflation of spirits that can sometimes hit after a major holiday. I can see that, done right, this can be a rite of passage infusing a sense of personal determinism and generosity. But done wrong, it could simply rob her of a sense of magical wonder.

Sally G said...

This so beautifully expresses the true joy of Santa—I have never given up my belief, I remained at Level One even as I became a Level Two and Level Three Santa. Not having kids, Level Four is in my experience “only” as an aunt. Level Five? Not really, I don’t think; but I will be watching for opportunities.
Thanks so much for this great Christmas story for [almost] everyone!

Lizard Eater said...

@ Anonymous -- Yes! I'll try to post it tomorrow.

@Sally -- Oh, I definitely think an Aunt can be a Level Three. (And while I DO believe in Santa, I don't believe in "Only Aunts." But I think Aunts are akin to Fairy Godmothers.)

From my experience, Aunts/Uncles (by blood or choice) have special powers, because in being Level 3 Santas, they bring magic not only to the child, but to stressed-out parents. I know of Aunts who have been that whisper of "Suzy told me that what she REALLY wants is ..." and Uncles who have said to parents, "Please, let me help you get this."

Christmas morning arrives, and if there is anything better than that very private smile between a parent and their sibling when their child boggles at something left by Santa ... well, I just don't know what it is.

Lizard Eater said...

I'm sorry this is late ... it was on an old, non-Internet computer.

Dear (Child),

I have wonderful news. Based on your faith, maturity level, and great questions, you are now eligible to progress to Santa Level Two.

What is Santa Level Two? Well, first, you need to understand this – as much fun as Santa Level One was, Santa Level Two is 10 times better. Maybe even 100 times better!

You asked two questions: Is Santa Claus real? And Do Mama and Daddy put my presents out Christmas Eve?

The answer to both questions is yes.

“How is that possible?” you’re probably saying. Well, Santa Claus is much bigger than one person. You probably already figured out that yourself, didn’t you? Santa Claus is made up of all the energy and love from people all over the world. He is a tremendous spirit who can do magical things. But it’s not as literal as a man in a red suit climbing down the chimney. In a way, it’s even more magical simply because it happens in such unique ways.

Santa Claus was very busy at our home this year. In November, your mother received a check for $xx that she wasn’t expecting. You can bet that went for Christmas presents! Your Aunt Name wasn’t even planning on coming for Christmas Eve nor Christmas Day – but her work scheduled changed, not once, but twice, and she wound up being here for both days! Just a week before Christmas, your mother suddenly got the inspiration to look online for a Star Wars poster for you – and she found a place where she could get you, not one, but 8 posters! And then, they arrived the day before Christmas! Santa obviously had his hand in that!

See, Santa Claus works in what appear to be very normal ways. A little voice tells you to look at something, you suddenly get an idea where to buy that thing you’ve never been able to find, and someone winds up getting the PERFECT present … well, where do you think that comes from?

Okay, so Santa Level Two, what is that?

Well, Santa Level One is where you’ve been. It’s believing in Santa Claus.

Level Two … is BEING Santa Claus.

Yep, you read that right. You get to actually BE Santa Claus. I know, I know, you’re saying, “How can I BE Santa Claus? I don’t have reindeer! And I don’t want to go down a chimney!”

Being Santa Claus is about giving to others, in secret and with love. It’s helping your parents next Christmas to make Santa Claus magic for your little sisters. And it’s coming up with your own way to be Santa Claus. Perhaps you’ll see a neighbor who needs some love and happiness and finding them the perfect gift … which you leave on their front porch and then run away!

Christmas Eve night is magical when you get to BE Santa Claus. It’s sharing with your sisters. It’s going outside at midnight and ringing sleigh bells so that all the little children in the neighborhood think they’ve heard Santa’s sleigh. It’s staying up with your parents after everyone else goes to bed, to put toys together, and fill stockings, and lay out presents.

And of course, so that your sisters will still believe, you’ll still get presents from “Santa,” too! (cont...)

Lizard Eater said...

Your little friends have told you that there is no Santa Claus. Well, this simply is not true. Just like in Polar Express, they no longer hear the bell. They think that just because Mama and Daddy put gifts under the tree, there is no Santa Claus. How silly! You can’t see oxygen, but you know it’s there, right?

It is very special to advance to Level Two. Not all children make it there. Many simply stop believing in Santa Claus, and that’s it. Some even grow up and never teach their children about Santa!

Your parents are at Santa Level Four, the second highest level. I know they would be happy to talk to you further about the different Santa Levels, if you choose to accept the promotion to Santa Level Two. It comes with a lot of responsibility. You must never discuss it with children who are younger than you, or children who are still on Level One. You can’t even talk about it with your sisters until after they have been promoted to Level Two, as well.

You are so loved, (Name). That love has caused Santa Claus power to swell, ever since you were born. Congratulations on making it to Level Two. If you decide to accept the promotion, just let your parents know.


Parent Name Parent Name
Santa Claus Level Four Santa Claus Level Four

Anonymous said...

This is the wisest Santa advice I've ever read. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Completely awesome!

Mythical Designs said...

So, very, very glad to find this. Hard to explain, but it a key post for us. In short, we are UU's, and professional artists, and in fact, I am scholar of folklore in general and Christmas and Santa in particular. So much so, that I plan to be a "Level Five" one day. Also, I have just shared this with the top professional Santa forum and am looking forward to seeing the response from the community there. It is made up mostly of Level Fives, and their helpers. Those who literally don the suits, and listen to the wishes, and some, even raise reindeer. So, as a UU, a lover of Christmas and parent, I thank you.

Anonymous said...

As a member of the forum 'Mythical Designs' mentions; I'm very grateful he posted a link to this blog entry.

It's a beautiful and eloquent explanation of Santa and an artful and inspired letter to children (of all ages) when they become 'too old' to believe.

All Santas, of any level, would do well to read and contemplate this.

'Santa' Morgan

Anonymous said...

This is the best explanation to a child passing over from the mystery to the magic of the Santa experience. I am a professional Santa and feel blessed to be a part of the joy and love of the season. Blessings and Peace to all.

Abbie said...

Oh goodness. This is the closest I've seen to my own personal philosophy of Santa, and so wonderfully written to boot. A friend linked to this on her Facebook and I'm glad she did; I've shared it with family and friends. Thank you and Merry Christmas!