Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The lesson of "Candy Cane Boy'

This is a column of mine that was originally posted in the Argus Leader on Dec. 25, 2010. It's one of my favorites. 

Like many kids, my son, Josh, started making his Christmas wish list about 30 seconds after the Thanksgiving turkey was cleared from the table.

With every new toy catalog that came in the mail, he'd revise his list, cutting out pictures of his favorite things. Iron Man, Army guys, a BB gun and DS and Wii games top his list, but I'm pretty sure you could throw a dart in the toy store and, whatever it landed on, Josh would be happy to receive. (Unless it was pink, frilly or otherwise girly, of course.)

Today, when Josh rips into his presents and dumps out the contents of his Christmas stocking, he's likely to find most everything he wanted - and then some. We're fortunate enough to be able to make his Christmas wishes come true.

But Christmas is more than just about getting presents. It's about giving. And I don't want that idea to be forgotten. Nor do I want to raise a greedy, ungrateful kid.

So for the past few years, I've picked a candy cane from the Angel Tree at work with a gift suggestion that was similar to something Josh would like, with the plan to shop for the present together. Because we don't know any names, Josh always has called our Angel Tree recipient Candy Cane Boy.

The first year, when Josh was 3, he was more concerned with eating the candy cane than picking out an actual gift. Last year, at age 4, he was mad that I didn't buy him the same Lightning McQueen racecar.

Obviously, Josh didn't quite get it. But that's understandable. He was still pretty young.

So this year, I really focused on explaining why we were searching for Star Wars toys for the Candy Cane Boy. No one - Josh least of all - wants to wake up on Christmas morning without any presents under the tree. And sometimes, moms and dads, for whatever reason, just can't buy anything. If we can help, we should.

He got it - and added another Star Wars figurine to our pile. "Candy Cane Boy should have this guy, too," he said.

But then we started talking about Santa.

Now, most Santa-related questions I can answer. Usually, the "it's magic" response covers it without me having to get into too many fictional details.

This one, though, stumped me a bit: Why can't Santa Claus just give Candy Cane Boy a present?

I didn't want to say too much and inadvertently give away the Santa secret. Nor did I want to imply somehow that Candy Cane Boy was on the naughty list. So I reiterated just how important it is to help others and then promptly changed the subject. I know that I didn't really answer his question, but it worked for the moment. Josh is 5. He's easily distracted.

But someday, Josh will understand. Santa is giving Candy Cane Boy a present. It's just that Santa doesn't really live at the North Pole. He lives inside all of us.

Whether you believe in Santa Claus or not, that's the real magic of Christmas.