1:35:00 PM

It is almost time to arrange Thomas' Christmas bear next to his photo, where we will see it as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We have called this year's bear Gabriel. In the cupboard is a pile of presents all from Thomas. Thomas, like always, will be part of our Christmas.

Please share a story I wrote last Christmas Eve...

The last time I went to get my hair cut I shocked the hairdresser.

“Do any of your girls still believe in Santa?” she asked.

“None of them have ever believed in Santa,” I replied.

The hairdresser’s eyes opened wide as she thought about a Christmas without reindeer, chimneys, sacks of toys and a jolly fat man from the North Pole. I reassured her that my children enjoy Christmas immensely. They are not deprived. Like all children, they get very excited and they can’t wait until Christmas Day.

I never set out to have a Santa-less Christmas. I was hoping to reproduce the Christmases of my own childhood. My mother was an expert in creating a magical make-believe world. But unfortunately I don’t have my mother’s skills. As I wrote in Empty Shoes:

I think that Santa can have a place in a Catholic celebration of Christmas. We all know the myth has its roots in a real saint. And there are so many aspects of a Santa Christmas that find an echo in the Catholic celebration: the anticipation, the waiting, the hope, the gifts, the love, the charity, the excitement, the work and sacrifice involved…If I’d had my mother’s skills at pretending…

Yes, I’ve never been very good at pretending.

Actually, Gemma-Rose was relieved to hear Santa is not real. From the very first time she saw a shopping centre Santa she has been terrified of padded men dressed up in red suits. When she was smaller, if she heard his bell ringing as he strolled the mall looking for little children to chat to, she’d bury herself into my side and beg me to hurry away.

Even now she still doesn’t like Santa much. The other day Gemma-Rose sighed and said, “I wish I didn’t look three. If I looked older, people would stop trying to drag me off to see Santa.”

We are standing outside our parish church. It is a week before Christmas. A friendly older woman bends down towards Gemma-Rose: “Only seven more sleeps until Santa comes. What do you hope he will bring you?” Gemma-Rose squirms and looks at the ground. She is silent, not knowing what to reply.

I come to her rescue: “I bring the Christmas presents. Santa doesn’t come to our house.”

Today is Christmas Eve. Are the girls excited? Yes! They are all in the kitchen helping Andy with the cooking preparations. I can hear Christmas carols playing in the background. The cats are snuggled happily under the decorated tree. Later we will hear the last of the Jesse Tree readings and hang the last ornament. We will light the Advent wreath candles, sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel and pray the Advent blessing one final time. Then later there will be lots of giggling as bags of presents emerge from hidden places. The children will arrange their gifts under the Christmas tree before going to bed.

And there will only be one more ritual left to perform before we are ready to celebrate the birth of Our Lord.

In my wardrobe is a white bag covered with multi-coloured spots and inside that bag is a bear. It’s not an ordinary bear. It’s Thomas’ Christmas bear, his Christmas gift. I bought it a few weeks ago and since then it has been hiding away waiting for today. I have been thinking about the bear with excitement. It is a beautiful, soft, white bear with floppy ears, a real I-love-to-cuddle-you bear. Her name is Edith.

I wonder why I always hide Thomas’ bears away. It’s not as if he can go searching to see what I have given him this year. Perhaps I just like the idea of hiding his presents alongside those of my other children. Or perhaps I hide it away for my own sake. I like to anticipate getting his bear out on the right day.

Today is the right day. This evening I am going to arrange the bear on the coffee table in the lounge, together with a bunch of flowers, a candle and a photo of Thomas. I know that as soon as the display is arranged to my satisfaction, it will feel like our no-longer-here-with-us son is part of our Christmas. We will be ready to celebrate.

Tonight we might find it difficult to drift off to sleep. We might be too excited to settle in our beds. Thoughts of presents, whether brought by Santa or bought by Mum, might fill little heads.

But there is another gift we will be longing for. Our hearts will be whispering, “Come Lord Jesus! Come!”

I imagine:

It is Christmas Morning. I am kneeling in front of the altar with my children. We are looking at the nativity scene. I see a mother gazing with love at her precious baby. I think of my own son, no longer a baby but all grown up in Heaven. And I pray, “Thank you Jesus for entering our world as a helpless child in order to give us eternal life. Because of Your gift, one day we will be reunited with Thomas.”

It is present time. It is time to hand out Thomas’ gifts. Edith Bear looks on. “Wow! Look what Thomas gave me! Doesn’t he choose great gifts? You’re a wonderful brother, Thomas.” I receive all Thomas’ kisses and hugs.

I think: one day we won’t need a bear. One day the children won’t have to give me the kisses and hugs meant for their brother. One day there will be nothing between us. Yes, one day, because of Christmas, we will all be reunited.

My heart fills with joy. Jesus has come.

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