I sense my 8 and 10 year old sons are struggling to believe that Santa Claus is really real. This year there have been no requests for Santa’s direct line to the North Pole and no long lists of preferred items for their sacks. Instead, yours truly has been fielding many challenging questions such as “Mummy, if Santa is real then why do we need the Salvation Army?”

For me personally, the real magic of Christmas for the last few years has been experienced through the eyes of our children. The build up to their favourite day of the year is one of feverish anticipation; no stone is left unturned to ensure that Santa knows exactly what they secretly desire and that he knows exactly where we live (or as the case has been in the last few years, where we will be visiting on Christmas morning).

I spend days searching the malls for the most authentic Santa look alike and eagerly escort the boys for their annual sitting on Santa’s knee. Somehow I think this year that no amount of bribery will get my 12 and 13 year olds to oblige for the sake of the family album!

So I am tinged with a little regret; the Easter Bunny has been exposed (probably just as well considering the obesity epidemic we are facing); and of course the Tooth Fairy forgot just once too often to hold any credibility; but I am not sure whether I can wait until I have grandchildren to revisit the magic of Santa.

In reality we know that Christmas epitomises more than spoiling kids rotten. I believe we have a responsibility as parents to ensure that we teach our children that Christmas is as much about giving as receiving, and that the prime focus should be on spending precious time with those we love.

Currently when we visit the supermarket (and let me tell you that can be a mission) people often raise their eyebrows when the boys are going “full steam ahead”. I can hear them thinking “why on earth would you bring four boys to the supermarket?!” and I feel like putting a sign on my forehead that says “I have no choice – we do have to eat!”

During the hectic shopping days prior to Christmas I talk to the boys about food banks and the importance of donating goods so that people can collect food parcels; particularly at Christmas when money is really stretched. It is hard for them to imagine not being able to afford food but I have been heartened by their attitude and choice. They choose all the special treats they enjoy at this time of year although I did have to explain that the ice-cream wouldn’t last the distance.

Equally we have enjoyed shopping for gifts to give to the Salvation Army; they want to personally deliver them but I explain how embarrassed the people might feel and that the joy of giving is really tested by giving anonymously.

I even know of families who volunteer on Christmas day to serve at the City Mission. I am no “do gooder” but I know if I don’t teach my children to share their fortune with others, to appreciate what they have and what others do not, then who will? …. and when will they ever understand the true meaning of Christmas.

Interestingly enough it is the one day of the year that our sons don’t kick up bobsy di about going to church. It appears that this occasion has real significance and they can easily accept and understand the celebration of the birth of Jesus and it gives meaning to the somewhat complex world of religion that they live in.

Christmas is just around the corner and it is an exciting and busy time of year for my family; my niece is expecting a baby any day so I will become a great aunt again; another niece is getting married just before Christmas; my brother and his family are coming home from New York and this will be the first time our entire family have been together for six years.

My parents have both passed away but I know they will look down from above and marvel at their children and grandchildren and feel proud that we know and understand that the real meaning of Christmas is love.


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Dame Susan Devoy is New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner, and a World Open champion squash player. She's the former CEO of Sport Bay of Plenty and super-mum to four boys.

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