Hanna Makhlouf’s blue eyes sparkled when he recounted how Santa Claus snuck in the window last Christmas.

The slim, blond 8-and-a-half-year-old leapt off the couch and pointed light to the large fireplace in his family room. “We were all looking over here for him to come down the chimney, but then I saw the window was cracked open,” he said, his face animated with excitement. “I rushed downstairs in my grandma’s house” just in time to catch a glimpse of Santa’s black boot headed out the door, he said. “I think he went to our neighbor’s.”

Like millions of children across the world, Hanna eagerly anticipates Christmas. He’ll write a letter to Santa at school and on Christmas Eve he will leave cookies on a plate and a glass of milk for Santa and his reindeer. “20 cookies,” Hanna declared.
“10 for the reindeer and 10 for Santa.”

But this year Hanna has a secret. “Can I tell you, Mom?” he said to his mother Najah.
He cupped his hand over his mouth and leaned in close to her ear. “Santa doesn’t exist. He used to exist a long time ago. He is a legend, just like Pele. He’s going to be remembered forever.”

Hanna is on the cusp of the age of reason, when children start to develop abstract thinking. They begin to understand that Santa may be something real, but not in the literal, concrete sense. Hanna stands at the threshold, and Mom and Dad are helping him make the transition by teaching him the history of Saint Nicholas and what he used to do. “Hanna is at a phase where he is more aware,” said Paul, Hanna’s father. “He knows who the real Santa was and that he is not the one who travels around the world in the blink of an eye.”

Hanna also knows not all children have a stack of gifts under a Christmas tree.
“That’s because not everyone’s parents can afford them. And some children don’t even have parents,” he said, “So they live at SOS” (an orphanage). Najah plans to take him to visit SOS; she’d like him to experience the real spirit of Christmas, the joy of giving.

Hanna already knows the real meaning of Christmas. “I’m going to have my first communion,” he says proudly. “Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. That’s why on Christmas, we go to church,” he said. “At the church, we pray. I thank Jesus. Jesus is the one who created us.”

Hanna apparently finds just as much joy in growing up as he once did in anticipating Santa’s arrival. “I’m the man of the house, along with Dad, of course,” he adds. “We’ll put up the tree. Dad will set it up and I’ll put in the branches. My sisters will help by watching.”

Hanna’s 19 cousins will come over for a big Christmas feast. “We get to all sit down and talk about stuff,” he said. There will be Christmas decorations, gifts, and caroling.
The big cedar in the garden will be bright with lights.

And Santa might bring him a toy machine gun. “Don’t worry, it is not real,” said Hanna.