Best day of the year arrives

Best day of the year arrives
Another Look by Joe Dennis
Originally published in The Walton Tribune
Dec. 25, 2002

As a child, Christmas was the best day of the year, and it started as soon as the clock turned to midnight.

Growing up in a Catholic household, midnight mass was the cornerstone of any Christmas celebration. Admittedly, I never looked forward to the extended service, but what kept me from drifting off in church was the hope that something would be waiting for me under the tree as soon as we arrived back home.

Surely Santa wouldn’t let me down. I would help my father make his specialty — molasses cookies — for the special event, and my mother would help me fill up a glass of milk and we’d leave it right next to a couple of cookies on a table in front of the tree. Every year, my mother assured me that even though we didn’t have a fireplace and a real chimney, Santa would find a way to get into the house. I wasn’t really sure how, because even though I insisted, my parents would not leave the door unlocked for Saint Nick. My biggest fear was that he would be making his stops on the south side of Chicago, and would not be able to get into the Dennis home.

But I was a lucky kid; Santa never failed to hit our house very early in the morning. We would stroll in from midnight mass around 1:30 a.m. — well beyond my bedtime — and I would scamper to the tree as soon as my father pushed open the back door. The milk glass was only half full, and the cookies were half-eaten; Bingo! Now, where are the gifts?

They were always there. Whether it be a Dukes of Hazard car, Star Wars action figure or Dennis the Menace books, Santa managed to come through. My euphoria would be short-lived though, as my young brain would catch up with the rest of my body and inform me it was bedtime. I would be back to the toys in the morning.

When I would wake up late Christmas morning, I would look out our front window for any signs of Santa’s visit. Since there was usually snow on the ground, this was pretty easy to do, and sure enough, I always saw reindeer tracks across the front lawn (though I failed to realize animal tracks were almost always visible on our front-lawn snow).

I would then retreat to the tree, putting my new toys to work, reveling in the best day of the year.


My 3 Sons: The Santa Question

Jaydon a year ago when he was a believer.

Originally published on on 12/1/11
My 7-year-old son Jaydon inherited his mother’s inquisitiveness. So it’s only fair that I avert his life questions to Carla.

Jay: “Dad, how did God create the world?”

Me: “Your mom sings in the choir. You should ask her.”

Jay: “Dad, how do tornadoes happen?”

Me: “Your mother lived in Kansas for a few years. You should ask her.”

Jay: “Dad, what makes boys and girls different?”

Me: “Your mom has a biology degree. You should ask her.”

Last week he asked me a question — in the form of a statement — that caught me off guard.

“Dad, I just don’t believe there’s a Santa Claus,” he said.

Thankfully, his little brothers weren’t around to hear this in his more-than-certain tone. Knowing we were on our way home where he could destroy their Christmas dreams, I felt that I couldn’t wait for Carla to bail me out. My mind raced to memories of my own childhood. When did I question Santa? I never had a chance. In second grade, Sister Mary told us there was no Santa. That won’t work here. Next my mind raced to WWCD — what would Carla do? Shoot. I don’t know. I really should’ve listened more to her answers to his questions. Then my mind jumps to the multiple parenting books and articles that Carla has forwarded me over the years. I really should’ve read those more intuitively, but I think I can scrape together an answer. (Please note by no means is this an actual step-by-step solution to answering kids’ difficult questions. It’s just what my brain put together from stuff I think I read at some point.)

Step one: Ignore child’s question.

I turn up the radio. Jay isn’t satisfied.

“Dad. Dad. DAD! Please turn the music down. Please just be honest with me. Is Santa for real?”

Step two: Avert child’s question.

I ask Jay about his day at school.

“It was fine,” he said. But I don’t want to talk about that now. Please tell me if Santa is real.”

Step three: Answer child’s question with another question.

I ask, “If Santa isn’t real, then who do you think puts all those gifts under the tree?”

He answers, “I think you and mommy buy the gifts, wrap them and put them under the tree when we are asleep.”

Step four: Repeat step three, in an attempt to exhaust child.

“Well you know mom and dad don’t have a lot of money. How in the world could we afford so many gifts?”

He answers, “You just charge it.”

(Great. Looks like we’ve already instilled bad financial habits on him.)

Step five: Use threats on child.

“Well you know what happens if you don’t believe in Santa. He won’t bring you gifts.”

After a few seconds of thoughtful silence, I think I may have caught him off guard.

“Will Jackson and Matthew still get gifts?” he asks.

Perfect! I think I found my out, which leads me to step six.

Step six: Guilt the child.

“That’s right,” I said. “Don’t ruin Christmas for your little brothers.”

“OK,” he answers. “But I just have one more question.”

Excited that I may have escaped this conundrum, I confidently encourage him to ask me anything.

“I know Jackson and Matthew were in mommy’s tummy. How did …”

Before he could complete the question, I give him my answer.

“It was your mommy’s belly. You should ask her.”