I went on a walk tonight with my family around the Fan (for those of you not up on your Richmond lingo that's the name for the neighborhood in the city that I reside in). We do this every year on Christmas Eve to see the perty lights, especially the chic, fancy, clearly professionally designed ones on Monument Avenue (to be honest I'm kind of partial to giant blow up penguins or those humongous snow globes that actually blow snow). And tonight I saw something really wonderful. It wasn't the lights or the massive, dressed to the nines Christmas trees visible through windows. It wasn't even the fully decorated and lit up Cadillac that sits on the same street corner every year, bursting to the brim with festive stuffed animals. Nope it was near the end of our walk when we passed a house with two plates sitting on its front porch steps. I stopped walking and took a closer look. On one plate there were carrot sticks. And on another plate (or bowl really) there was a big heaping of oatmeal. It took me a moment, but only a moment, before I realized what this obviously was. Whoever lived in that house politely and considerately set out a midnight snack for Santa's reindeer. And for whatever reason, this completely thawed my sometimes over it heart.
Can you remember what it felt like the last time you put out snacks for Santa or his reindeer? I have a hard time. I know that I did this. I know that at one point in my childhood I believed with all of my heart that the big guy in the suit would munch on the cookies I so carefully set out (usually Oreos, the special Christmas kind covered in white chocolate), that he would quench his thirst with a tall glass of milk, and that he would bring carrots up to the roof for Prancer et. all (I never had the ingenious idea of putting the reindeer snacks outside so the reindeer could snack while Santa does his present thing). But somehow I've forgotten what it really felt like to believe so fervently in something I would never see, to trust so completely without the need for proof or logic (minus the one time I asked Santa for his signature to prove to my brother that he was real; needless to say he complied).
As an adult Christmas is wonderful. There are things you can enjoy as an adult you could never enjoy as a kid; spiked eggnog, Christmas morning mimosas-okay basically just anything alcohol related. But let's be honest for a moment. As wonderful as Christmas still is, as warm and fuzzy as it still can be, we lose something the moment we stop believing in the jolly fat guy. I think we all feel it. Even the cheeriest, seasonal sweater wearing, Christmas addict, if honest with themselves, would have to admit that something goes missing in our Christmases once we reach the age where we no longer believe, where we wake up in the morning and the only thing that's suspensful is what our parents got from our list, not whether Santa came or not. How could it not be different? For the better part of our childhoods, for one night, we get to believe, no questions asked, in magic. No matter how dull or prosaic the rest of our lives are, for one night every year we are privy to greatness, to extraordinary events. Seeing those plates on that porch tonight just forcefully reminded me of how beautiful that is, how beautiful it was, how all of those wonderful childhood things, optimism and hope and innocence all get concentrated into that one powerful, singular belief.
And as much as this blog may seem like a depressing note for Christmas Eve, it's not. I may not put out cookies or believe that the presents under my tree tomorrow will have been delivered via sled. But that doesn't mean Christmas has to lose all of its magic. It may be a more measured, more adult brand, but I still feel something when I look at a lit up Christmas tree in a darkened room. It's a bittersweet kind of hope, a more restrained type of optimism, and maybe, just maybe, if I think about those carrot sticks days of mine hard enough, there might still be a tiny sliver of belief.