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Signs Of Life

Columns by Pamela Majteles

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Posted by pam on January 14, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Originally published December 19, 2008

Reprinted with permission from Bay Area News Group – East Bay.

Kids should come with expiration dates like cartons of eggnog. The expiration date would be the age that kids stop believing all the tales they’ve been told about the holidays.

In my experience as a mother, that age is around seven or eight. Even if kids don’t conclude in a single instant that some holiday stories are made-up, at least, they begin to question them.

“It doesn’t seem possible that Santa can go around the whole world in one night delivering toys,” speculated my daughter when she turned 7-years-old.

She offered her opinion as an observer rather than a participant, because in our family we celebrate Hanukkah instead of Christmas. Even if you don’t celebrate it, the stories and traditions of Christmas are well-known so they’re fair game to all.

Rather than seize the bull by the horns or, more on point, the reindeer by the antlers, I chose to remain mum. There seemed to be a lot riding on any revelation from me about Santa. I had to consider my kid’s role in the larger network of kids. As soon as one stops believing, it can affect the entire chain, like when one light bulb goes out on a string of Christmas lights.

Also, if her suspicions about Santa were confirmed, next she might find issue with the story of Hanukkah. The story takes place a long time ago when the king of Syria prohibited his Jewish subjects from practicing their religion. The king forced them to worship as he did or face violent persecution. A small group of Jewish people, known as the Maccabees, refused to submit and fought back, ultimately defeating the king’s enormous army.

Afterward, when the Jewish people reclaimed their temple in Jerusalem, one of their first acts was to light the temple’s menorah. Once lit, it was symbolically important that the menorah keep burning. However, the oil used to light the menorah was in short supply. Despite the fact there was only enough oil for one day, the menorah miraculously stayed lighted for eight days, until more oil became available – known as the miracle of lights.

Probably, my daughter could find enough fuel in this story to send Hanukkah up in flames. Now that she was older, I knew it was only a matter of time before her once unshakable belief in certain stories began to wobble, like a Hanukkah dreidel right before it stops spinning.

It’s hard not to feel some regret when children stop believing. What I love best about holiday stories are the unlimited possibilities they represent: Flight times can’t constrict Santa and oil shortages can’t trump hope. For the time they believe these stories, children are able to see a world where anything is possible.

As they get older, I’d really like my kids to keep seeing the world this way, even if childhood stories no longer ring true. I’m not quite ready to give up on the power of a story. So, I’m always on the lookout for other kinds of stories that can show my kids anything is possible.

I’ve found other stories close to home, such as one about local school children who raised thousands of dollars for the county food bank, while participating in Good Cents for Oakland’s Penny Roundup. Then there are stories with a bigger audience, such as the one about the first African-American who became president of the United States. It’s nice knowing that, unlike my kids, stories like these will never get old.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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