Practice & Voice, BeyondBelief

Leveling Up

“Level Two is where you become privy to the giant mystery, the fabulous conspiracy that is Santa. You are entrusted with the secret, that Santa is SO much bigger than you imagined, that you, in fact, get to be Santa, too.”

Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford

One year—but not the year the Christmas tree fell on me at midnight, causing me to weep with self-pity and exhaustion—I was so happy with how the tree looked, with all the presents underneath it, including the ones that “Santa brought” in their different-than-the-others’-wrapping-paper, that I took a photo before going to bed, wanting to preserve perfection.

A few months later, my two kids were in the back seat of our car, looking at that image, when the younger one said, in a confused tone of voice, “Who took that photo?” She realized something was amiss. Her young mind had observed that it had to have been taken after Santa brought presents and but before the presents were opened—and she and her sister were always the first downstairs on Christmas morning.

The dreaded “two plus two equals Santa-Claus-does-not-exist” moment seemed to be upon us. I wasn’t ready for this moment, which eventually visits Christmas-celebrating families. Or tooth fairy families. Or Three Kings families.

I hesitated, not sure what to say.

Audio of “Leveling Up”

Listen to Rev. Karen read her reflection.

Thankfully, despite the fact that the older sibling had been teasing and tormenting the younger one moments before, on a dime she became her younger sister’s protector. Invoking full older sibling authority, she asserted, “Don’t you remember when Mommy took that picture just before we got to open our presents?”

Since I was driving, I couldn’t see what passed between the two of them—what shared gaze of questioning or trust or oblivion or wishful thinking. I just know that with that single generous gesture, my younger child’s belief in Santa stayed intact that year (and years to come: much longer than most).

More sweetly, my older one took her first step toward being a Level Two Santa: sustaining the magic and generosity, and becoming part of it herself. For this parent, it was the best Christmas gift that year. Maybe ever.


Spirit of Magic and Generosity, Spirit of Love in All Beings: May all children be loved, at all times of the year, knowing delight and generosity from many sources, becoming delight and generosity directed outward. When given the option, may we all choose to become Santa, rather than not believe.

Karen G. Johnston (she/her/hers) is the settled minister at The Unitarian Society in East Brunswick, NJ. Before becoming a minister, she spent 20+ years as a clinical social worker.

This post was originally published by on December 4, 2019.

Celebrate the holidays with All Souls!

Sunday, December 11 at 4 – Holiday Choir Concert
Wednesday, December 14 at 6:30 – Holiday Memorial Chapel
Saturday, December 24 at 4:30, 6 & 7:30 pm – Christmas Eve Candlelight Services
Sunday, December 25 at 10:30 am – One Service for All

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