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The Evergreen Evening

November 22, 2016
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I simply don’t remember.

I have no recollection of the conversation in which my parents revealed to me that a jolly ol’ man dressed in red, who came from the North Pole bearing gifts, wasn’t the one who had been placing the Christmas gifts under our tree each year.

In fact, I have no recollection as to whether or not that conversation even occurred at all.  I may have figured it out on my own.  I honestly don’t remember how it all went down.

But, what I do remember is how those first couple of Christmases felt after learning the (whole) truth.  I wasn’t devastated.  I wasn’t scarred, in the least.  I didn’t cry.

But, truth be told, some of the magic was gone during those first couple of post-Santa years.

Yes, I was well aware of the beautiful, true meaning of Christmas!  Yes, my parents kept Christ at the center of our holiday celebrations!  Yes, the birth of our Savior meant a great deal to me, even at such a young age!  Yes, Christmas continued to remain my favorite holiday, and was a season filled with joy!

However, the jump from my last Santa-filled season to my first Santa-less season was a bit abrupt for my tender heart.

One year, the reindeer and the magical, endearing man who swooped down chimneys with a sack full of gifts was 100% real in my heart.  And the next year, he was not.  There was no gradual let down.  The Santa band-aid was simply ripped off.

And that’s how it was for most – if not all – of my friends, sibs, cousins, etc.

When the timing was right, and their hearts were ready, off came the band-aid.

When our oldest daughter, Sidney, turned two years old, we were so excited to introduce her to Santa.  Her daddy and I had both been raised in Christian homes where Santa coexisted with Christ during our childhood Christmas celebrations.  And we were both so grateful for that…so grateful that our parents played along, and let us experience the joy and the wonder of it all.  We remember the magic that Santa was able to add to those impressionable years.  We wanted to be sure to allow our children to experience that same joy and that same magic during their fleeting childhood Christmases.

However, we wanted to do just one thing differently.

We wanted to come up with a plan in which there would be no ripping of the band-aid, once our children reached the age when they were old enough to hear the (whole) truth about Santa.  We wanted to come up with a plan to make the transition from Santa-filled Christmases to Santa-less Christmases a smooth transition.  A joyful transition.  An exciting transition.  A memorable transition.

We wanted to come up with something meaningful and significant for them.  Something so meaningful and so significant that when they have children of their own someday, they would be able to clearly recall the day that the (whole) truth – the WONDERFUL truth – about Santa was revealed to them. Something so meaningful and so significant that they would be able to look back on that day as one of their greatest Christmas memories.  A day when the magic didn’t fade, but – rather – a day when the magic simply transformed, and became something delightfully different.

Those hopes and desires for our children gave birth to what we have decided to call the Evergreen Evening.

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EVERGREEN: adj.

1. Having foliage that persists and remains green throughout the year.
2. Perennially fresh, interesting, enduring.
3. Automatically renewed or repeatedly made valid.

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We knew that Sidney, our oldest, would have to be our guinea pig.  She would have to be the first of our five to experience the Evergreen Evening.  We had no idea how well our plan would work.  We simply made the necessary preparations, and hoped for the best.

So, Evergreen Evening?  How did we arrive at that name?  It’s quite simple, actually.  We want each of our children to have a love for Christmas that is evergreen.  Evergreen like the beautiful trees that brighten up winter’s landscape each Christmas.  The spruce tree.  The pine tree.  The fir tree.  Trees that are able to endure one harsh winter after another, without losing their color, or their vibrancy.  Enduring.  Ever-fresh.  Ever-present.  Never fading.  Never dull.  Never dying.

Because, after all, at the center of Christmas is Christ.  He is enduring.  His love is ever-fresh.  Ever-present.  Never fading.  Never dull.  Never dying.

He is evergreen.

Last Christmas, we could tell that Sidney was on the brink of figuring everything out, but she DID make it through the whole season with her belief in Santa still intact.  She was 9-years-old last season.  Judging by certain questions she posed, and certain comments that she made, we could tell that we were nearing the end of the Santa chapter in her childhood.  As with any childhood chapter, I was saddened to see this one coming to a close for her.  Not because I think happiness at Christmastime hinges on a belief in Santa.  Not at all.  I was saddened because the closing of any chapter in any of my kids’ lives always stings.  And some closings sting more than others.

That sting – that sentimentality – is what drove us toward the establishment of the Evergreen Evening.  We were determined to lessen the sting of this closing chapter.  For our children.  And for us.

So, we gave it some thought.  We planned.  We prepared.  We shopped for some helpful books and keepsakes.  We asked my parents to keep Jackson, Grace, Haven, and Morganne for us for a few hours.  We asked Sidney to get dressed up in her favorite green outfit.  (She chose a flowing mint green dress with a cream vest.)  We put on our green outfits, too.  We placed a new, sparkling evergreen tree pin on Sidney’s vest.  We discussed restaurant options with her, and came to a decision.  Then, off we went.  Just the three of us.

Sidney’s Evergreen Evening had officially begun.

We ended up at Stone Creek Dining Company for dinner.  It’s a restaurant in a nearby outdoor mall that is known for its beautiful ambiance, and savory menu items.  Sidney had never been there before.  So, this was a real treat for her.

After we were seated, I noticed that my appetite was slowly fading.  For a few seconds, I was sure that my emotions were about to get the best of me.  I almost got up to go to the restroom to give myself a pep talk.  It didn’t help that Bryan had become completely silent.  And, by taking just one look at his face, I could see why.  He was about to lose it.  A pink haze had formed around the edges of his eyes.  A mist was forming.  I could tell that he was on the brink of losing it.  Not good.  But, then our waiter came and lightened the mood with small talk and a brief rundown of the restaurant menu.  As he did, I quickly composed myself, and told myself to avoid looking at Bryan at any point during the conversation that was about to take place.

After the waiter left to get our drinks, I reached into the bag next to me and pulled out three books: “The Wonderful Truth about Santa”, “Santa’s Secret Society:  Where Secrets are Unlocked and the Magic of Santa Lives on Forever”, and “The Three Gifts”.  And I told Sidney to listen closely to what she was about to hear.

First, I read “The Wonderful Truth about Santa” aloud to her.

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It’s a WONDERFULLY written book that gently guides children through the who, the what, and the why of the beautiful Santa tradition. Its message is that a real St. Nick DID once walk the earth, and his generosity inspired parents to give in secret. It explains that children now have the exciting opportunity to become a secret Santa for anyone they choose, and they must never stop believing in good.  It begins with the story of Saint Nicholas (the real, historical one) to establish the theme of giving in secret.  It uses his story to explain why parents give children gifts in secret, and pretend they are from Santa Claus.  It emphasizes the beauty of giving in secret – anonymously – without any intent to be recognized for our generosity.  It encourages generosity for generosity’s sake…not to bring praise or recognition to ourselves.  It shows children that their parents weren’t lying to them when they told them that Santa brings presents and puts them under the tree.  They were simply wanting to give in secret, just like the real Saint Nicholas did, years ago.  It explains how parents simply assume the role of Santa.  In essence, they became Santa.  It assures children that Santa DOES exist.  Fueled by the shining example of Saint Nicholas, each of us have the ability to become Santa to someone else.  The book also encourages children not to reveal the (whole) truth about Santa to other children.  It explains mall Santa Clauses, Salvation Army Santa Clauses, and Secret Santa gift exchanges.  And – as an added bonus – it even features racially diverse characters throughout its pages.  While that doesn’t change the message or the essence of the storybook, I think it will prove to be meaningful for Grace and Haven someday, when the time comes for them to look through the book on their Evergreen Evenings.

I have to admit that I had to fight back tears a couple of times as we read through that first book together.  But, I made it through.  It didn’t help that, at one point, a Norah Jones song began to softly play overhead as I was reading.  As soon as I heard her voice, I was immediately taken back to Sidney’s nursery, where I used to rock her, feed her, and snuggle her, to the sound of Norah Jones songs playing in the background.  I had to do everything in my power to hold back the tears as her voice filled the restaurant.  My baby girl is no longer a baby.  That song, coupled with the closing chapter at hand, were almost too much for me to handle.  But, like I said, I held it together.

Most importantly, Sidney seemed very receptive to the news she had just heard.  She was very quiet, and hung onto every word I spoke.  But, she didn’t seem sad or heartbroken at all.  She almost seemed as if she was proud to now know the (whole) truth.  She seemed somewhat relieved.

So far, so good.

Next up was the “Santa’s Secret Society” book.

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This book is another great vehicle to use when driving home the (whole) truth – gently and joyfully – about Santa Claus to your child.  It is intended to make a child feel as though they have now unlocked the magic of Santa, and are now a part of a new Christmas tradition as a member of Santa’s Secret Society. At the end of the book, there is something called “Santa’s Secret Society Contract”.  It’s a contract on which your child signs his/her name, promising to never tell the secret to someone small…so the magic of Christmas will continue for all!  What I liked about this book is how it conveys a certain level of excitement, and makes a child feel privileged to be a part of an incredible, secret society.  Because this book focused on unlocking secrets, we chose to buy Sidney a key to give to her after reading this book.  I attached a wire to it, and transformed it into an ornament for her to place on her Christmas tree this year.  We told her that the key would be a continual reminder of the special secret she now knows.  We told her how important it is to keep the secret safely inside of her.  We also told her that she would be the only Parks kiddo who is old enough for us to trust with this secret.  That thought put a smile on her face.  Sid loved this book as well, and was particularly excited about the prospect of having her own special key.  She willingly and readily signed her name at the end of the book.

The third – and final – book that we presented to her was “The Three Gifts”.

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This incredible little book is one that we did not read together because it is quite a bit longer than the other two.  Rather, we explained to her the overall message of the book.  In addition to revealing who St. Nicholas really was, this book also presents the story of Jesus’ life and purpose, and how St. Nicholas performed secret, charitable acts as a way of honoring and obeying Jesus’ teachings. “The Three Gifts” reconciles Christian tradition with the cultural phenomena of Santa Claus in a learner-friendly way by exploring the progression of three specific gifts: 1) God’s gift to humankind (Jesus).  2) St. Nicholas’ acts of love. 3) Our own opportunity today to “live the tradition” by focusing on Christ at Christmas, giving generously, and serving others as Christ’s “hands and feet”.  The book focuses on those three gifts, and how important it is that we focus on them, too, each year at Christmas.  In doing so, we will ALWAYS experience the magic and joy of the season.  In doing so, the magic and the joy will remain evergreen.

At the end of “The Three Gifts”, there is a beautiful poem about Santa & Saint Nick.  It offers a succinct, truthful comparison of the two figures.

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We told Sidney to keep this book stashed secretly under her pillow so that she could read it privately throughout the upcoming Christmas season.  We told her to make sure that her younger siblings didn’t find it, because we don’t think they’re ready to hear the (whole) wonderful truth about Santa yet.  After handing her that book, we also handed her another special ornament.  An ornament depicting Santa kneeling at the manger.  We told her that this ornament should always serve as a reminder of where Christmas truly started, and how important it is for her to keep Christ at the center of her Christmas celebrations…just like the real Saint Nick did, years ago.  If she does, her Christmases will always be full of magic.  If she does, her Christmas joy will remain evergreen.

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Once we had finished going through all of the books, our meals had arrived.  So, we took some time to enjoy them while continuing to discuss what we had discovered in the books.  And, by we, I mean me and Sidney.  Poor Bryan.  His eyes were about to burst.  I could see it so clearly.  He apologized to me later in the evening for not taking part in the conversation very much.  But, he said that if he had, he risked losing it.  And he didn’t want to do that.  I tell you, friends.  He loves that little girl.  She captured his heart from the moment he first saw her.  There is a place in his heart that belongs only to her.  And watching her grow up is painfully hard for him, at times.  Just as it is for me.

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After our bellies were full, and we had consumed all of the delicious food that had been placed before us, I pulled out one final gift for Sidney.

A large evergreen-scented jar candle.

Her eyes lit up as soon as she saw it.

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Sidney loves lotions, perfumes, body sprays, candles, air fresheners, etc.  She is a big fan of anything richly scented, and is highly sensitive to smells.  (She’s my daughter, for sure!)

I told her to open the lid and smell the contents. She loved it.  After doing so, I told her that we were giving this candle to her to place in her room this Christmas season.  Whenever she lights it, we encouraged her to remember her special Evergreen Evening.  As it burns and the fragrance begins to fill the air, we told her that we hoped she would be reminded, once again, of the everlasting, ever-fresh, ever-enduring magic of Christmas.  We told her that once the candle burns down, and the wax melts away…whenever that might be…we would buy her another evergreen candle.  And another.  And another.  When the time comes for us, each year, to put away our Christmas decorations, we will put her evergreen candle into storage with the decorations.  But, at the beginning of each Christmas season, we will pull it out for her to place in her room as a glowing, fragrant, evergreen reminder of the beauty of Christmas.

Beauty everlasting.  Because of the miraculous gift of Christ.  

Beauty enduring.  Because of the extraordinary tradition Saint Nicholas started, years ago.  

Beauty unfading.  Because of the magical opportunities that WE now have to give to others.

After finishing up our conversation with Sidney, and seeing that she was genuinely at peace with what she had just heard and seen from us, we gathered up our items and left the restaurant.  We walked around the outdoor mall for a bit.  Thankfully, the courtyard was already adorned with Christmas lights, decorations, a sleigh, and a HUGE Christmas tree.  The perfect setting in which to immerse ourselves after the conversation we just had.

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We then stopped by Orange Leaf to grab some frozen yogurt.  Sidney crafted a chocolate/peanut butter concoction.  As she ate, we sat next to the window, with a clear view of Christmas lights sprinkled throughout the courtyard.

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We laughed.  We ate.  We shivered. We made memories.  And we discussed just how much we were looking forward to getting back home so that we could start putting up Christmas decorations.  We’d had a great time.  Just the three of us.

On the way home, I said to Sidney, “So, how are you feeling about all of this?  You know, the stuff we talked about tonight?”  She said, “I had SO much fun tonight.  I’m happy.  I really am. Well, 90% happy.  And maybe 10% sad.”  Then, she got really quiet.

A single tear rolled down her freckled cheek.

I reached over and grabbed her hand.  I told her it was totally okay to feel sad.  (And I totally expected that out of the girl who has told us on NUMEROUS occasions that she does not want to grow up.  She wants to remain a child forever.)

She said she wasn’t even sure why she was crying.  Then, she told me that she actually thought her tears were happy tears.  She had loved spending the night together – just the three of us.  And she said it was really special.

I reminded her of the movie, “Inside Out”, and how it taught us how important it is to let sadness do its work in our lives….and not always fight to push it aside.  We talked about how it isn’t necessary to be either 100% happy or 100% sad in any given moment.  We should let ourselves feel happiness tainted with sadness.  And, in fact, it’s completely normal and healthy to do so.

By the time we got home, Sidney was ready to get into the house, take her shower, and get started on some Christmas decorating in her pajamas.  But, before doing any of that, she insisted on lighting her evergreen candle.  So, I did.  And she placed it in her room, on top of her dresser.

Despite a few tears, here and there, it truly ended up being a magical evening.  A memorable evening.  A very special evening.  One that I hope Sidney won’t soon forget.

As I sit here, reflecting on our first attempt at this new Evergreen Evening tradition of ours, I can honestly say that it worked.  It.really.worked.

Upon hearing the (whole) truth about Santa,  our daughter wasn’t discouraged.  She was encouraged.  Yes, there were moments of happiness tinged with sadness.  But, those moments were unavoidable.  And, in the end, they proved to bring the three of us closer together.

A conversation that we once dreaded having with Sidney, had been transformed into a beautiful evening that was marked – first and foremost – with joy.

Goal accomplished.

It is our prayer that this goal will also be accomplished in Jackson’s life someday, when the time comes for him to have his Evergreen Evening.  And, Grace.  And, Morganne.  And, Haven.

I share our experiences on here today because I want to encourage other parents out there who might also find themselves on the brink of having “the talk” with their child about the man in red.  I want them to see that “the talk” doesn’t have to be a somber one.  It can be a celebration.  It can be something to anticipate, not dread.  Something that they and their children can enjoy, not simply endure.  I would love to encourage them to consider coming up with a plan of their own.  A plan to turn something they’ve been dreading into something that they can anticipate.  It IS possible.  It is.

We can try, in vain, to keep our children little forever.  We can weep and wail as each chapter closes in their lives.  We can scramble to hold them back.  We can look at life as a series of endings.  Or, we can look at life as a series of beginnings.

As much as I want to let myself have a big ol’ ugly cry right now, and let myself mourn this little “ending” in my daughter’s life, I am choosing not to.  Rather, I am choosing to look at it as another beginning for her.  I am choosing to call to mind the look of contentment on her face the other night as we told her the (whole) truth about Santa.  I am calling to mind the look on her face when she heard that Santa IS real, but just not quite in the same form that she had initially thought.  I am calling to mind the hours of fun that we had together – just the three of us.  I am calling to mind the tastes, the smiles, the tears, the shivers, the laughter, the gifts, the questions, the hugs, the closeness, and the conversations from the other night.

Though my Sidney will never look at Santa at the Indy Children’s Museum the same way ever again, I am choosing not to mourn.  I am choosing, instead, to call to mind the many special moments from her Evergreen Evening.  And I am calling to mind the words that she spoke at the end of her special night, as I was tucking her into bed.

As I bent down to give her a goodnight squeeze, she stared at me with a look of absolute sincerity in those twinkling eyes of hers, and said, “I loved tonight, Mommy.  Thank you so much.”  I then wrapped her in my arms, as I have done a thousand times before.  As I did, I said, “I loved tonight, too.  Always remember it.  I know I will.  And, I want you to know that if me or Daddy ever wink at you this Christmas season, it’s our way of saying that we’re glad you’re a part of Santa’s Secret Society now, and we’re glad you now know the (whole) wonderful truth about Christmas.  A wink will also be our way of reminding you that we loved your Evergreen Evening.  Okay?”  That simple thought brought a smile to her face.

Bryan went in to tell her goodnight after me.  He came out and said that she looked happy, and that she had told him she felt relieved, for some reason.

Bryan and I finally exchanged a hug as well, and, in that moment, we felt convinced that our first Evergreen Evening had been a success.  We, too, were relieved.  For different reasons than Sidney, I suppose.  But, relieved nonetheless.

If we had any doubts as to whether or not the evening had truly been a success, those doubts were completely washed away the next morning.  As we drove to church, with a van full of children conversing and chattering behind us, I felt Sidney tap me on the shoulder.  I turned around.  We locked eyes.

Without saying a word, she smiled.

Then, she winked at me.

My heart skipped a beat.

I smiled.  And I winked right back at her.

In that moment, a beautifully distinct fragrance filled the air around us.

A fragrance eternal.

A fragrance enduring.

A fragrance evergreen.

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Sidney ~

May your soul and your spirit never grow old.  

May your childlike wonder never fade.  

May your Christmas joy remain evergreen.

Evergreen, like the gift of Christ.

Evergreen, like the gift of Saint Nicholas’ example.

Evergreen, like the gift of generosity, which lies within you.

Evergreen.

With no wilting, no fading, and no ending in sight. 

My darling, the magic of Christmas has not come to an end.

It has only just begun.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Lana McHugh permalink
    November 22, 2016 3:31 am

    Carly, this is so sweet. I enjoyed so much reading your words and feeling the joy of a childhood Christmas. I know others have told you this but you have a gift both with words and images. You really should consider writing a book if you haven’t already.

  2. November 22, 2016 3:34 am

    Carly, this is so sweet. You have a real gift, with words and images. You should really consider writing a book, if you haven’t already!

  3. Bobbie Rodgers permalink
    November 22, 2016 11:28 am

    Carly,
    Absolutely beautiful and so touching!

  4. November 23, 2016 1:17 am

    Such a wonderful idea! I love it. That pic of her with candy cane in color is wonderful.

  5. December 18, 2016 6:23 pm

    Thank you for sharing this! How special and meaningful. This is very helpful!

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