When he was six, I planned our first Christmas without Santa Claus. He knew the year before that too many of the red-suited creatures walked the stores to be one person, and so I tried to develop plans that would compensate. With the older ones we had kept Santa for the younger, and the shock had not been such a problem. I soon discovered, however, that my baby had techniques of his own for dealing with this situation.

"When do I go to see Santa?" he asked.

"Aren't you too big for that this year?" I replied.

"Santa likes big boys," he said.

What was I to do? Say blankly, "Quit acting like a baby. There isn't any Santa!?" Of course, I couldn't. Part of the myth is to keep it going as long as possible. Besides, he needed Santa, or he wouldn't be doing this. Yet I sensed an unwholesome quality to such a Christmas, and felt I should help someway to make him ready to accept the wider truth.

After a considerable amount of thought, I hit upon a plan. He had some red flannel pajamas, and with very little effort, I fashioned him a Santa Claus suit. A pillow in his stomach, some cotton on the jacket, a white cotton beard, and a peaked red flannel hat were all it took. I prepared this carefully and put it away till Christmas eve.

One of our family customs on Christmas Eve was to go calling on friends and neighbors with coffee cake. I had baked this during the day, for Christmas morning breakfasts. This custom was devised when the children were small so they would get worn out enough to go to sleep when we put them to bed on Christmas Eve.

We always included in our list of calls one or two people who were strange in the community, lonely, ill, or old, but most of our calls were to families with children the age of ours, and it was fun. The excitement, gaiety, and individuality of expression of the Christmas spirit of each family became our own, and we always returned exhausted, full of treats, and glowing.

This year, while my husband piled the car with warm bundles of coffee cake into the car, I got out the Santa Claus suit and dressed my youngest son in it, making the brightest-eyed miniature one could hope to see. He was adorable, of course, and as we went from house to house we had him deliver the gift. We rang the doorbell, and all of us hid except our mite of a Santa. When our friends answered the door, they would find him there gaily proclaiming, "Merry Christmas!"

And merry it was. Our friends were astounded, amused, and delighted, and my youngest son discovered it is more fun to be Santa than to believe in him. He wore that Santa Claus suit for two more years, and finally, when he was nine, I had to say, "It's too small for you now. You just can't wear it again." He was sad, but he put it away with his many memories of Santa Christmases. By now, even the Christmas Eve calls had lost their luster, having been replaced with urges more important for a deeper sense of Christmas.

Perhaps our society today is in much the same position regarding God as my son was with Santa Claus. No reasonable person expects to bump into heaven as we zoom about in space, but our father image concept is hard to relinquish. Just as Santa Claus is real in that he is Love dressed up in a red suit so a child can understand such an abstract concept, so God is real. I have found the real Santa Claus through playing the role for my children. How can I find the greater pulse of the Omnipotent who will do the same for me?

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