When it comes to Christmas and Santa Claus, our lives take us through several stages, some of them distinct, others blurring into one another.
Perhaps the first stage doesn’t really count. It’s the very beginning of our being, when our entire awareness is centred on nipples (fake or real, whatever), enough warmth for sleep, and the discomfort of poopy diapers.
Neither real nor imagined, Santa and Christmas are beyond our ken. They do not exist in the time and space that makes up this fuzzy, eat-sleep-poop universe.
Somehow, while we shift our crawl into an upright position and upgrade the unintelligible babble of our babyhood into the semi-intelligible babble that will carry us into adulthood, that universe becomes one of wonder and myriad delights.
It’s the Santa Stage. In this stage, you don’t really experience Christmas, just Santa. If you understand anything at all, you recognize the word Santa and correlate it with flashy decorations, sweet foodstuffs, and cool things that play peek-a-boo in colourful boxes and bags.
It’s a year-round condition, though adults only recognize the Santa part of it for about a month in the dead of winter, which can be puzzling, particularly at the end of October and whenever your birthday is.
Next, the post-Santa stage begins when you first learn there is no Santa Claus, after all.
It doesn’t matter how you come to the understanding of Santa’s non-existence — snotty little naysayers at school, recognition of Mom’s handwriting on all the packages, or (as in my case) an older brother informs you that Santa died last year when he came down the wrong chimney and instead of coming out of the fireplace he got burned up in the kitchen wood stove.
Nevertheless, you are determined blithely to go along with the ruse, once you realize that, that way, you’ll still be getting the games and toys and special treats.
Who cares if the goods under the tree come courtesy of a mythical creature or they’re bought and wrapped by Mom or Dad or Uncle Ralph or your goofy brother who can’t stand you the rest of the year… as long as the boxes are there and they have stuff in them?
Christmas itself is still just a peripheral consideration at this stage. It’s an ephemeral concept that simply takes over for Santa who, after all, no longer exists.
If you go to church or Sunday school you’ll learn about Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus and three wise men and the miracle of the virgin birth yadda yadda yadda.
But the bottom line is, in this stage, Christmas is the time of year when you can score some really cool stuff.
This stage can last a long time. For many people the Post-Santa Stage will last right through most of the teen years and deep into young-adulthood.
Some won’t get past this stage.
For most, however, occasional glimmers of real Christmas meaning start sneaking into our consciousness, maybe showing up as a wish to buy Mom or Dad or even that bratty little sister something special for under the tree. Or maybe it will prompt a sincere attempt to feel grateful for the hot pink sweater that Auntie Gertrude knitted for you with her own hands.
Eventually, those glimmers gain an evanescence born of the warm feeling you get from giving something that made someone smile.
That’s when you reach the Christmas Stage.
And before you know it, you’re right back to the Santa Stage — the stage when you realize you were Santa all along.