There’s one member of our family who believes above all others that Santa exists. I’m not talking about our 13-year-old. By the age of 5, she was already telling us that she believed in the “spirit of Santa” rather than the flesh. Apparently a classmate with older siblings had tipped her off that the jolly old elf was an impostor, and she was trying to let us down easy.
I’m also not talking about my wife. She’s the one who buys most of the presents and–perhaps more to the point–wraps them. So there’s no pulling the wool over her eyes. I’m not even talking about our 8-year-old, Gracie, who continues to cling tenaciously, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, to a belief in St. Nick.
No, I’m talking about me. Gracie tells me she knows that Santa exists. I tell her, “You better believe it.” I tell her that in the good old days when I was a kid, I used to listen to this Christmas Eve radio program that offered progress reports on Santa and his reindeer as they made their way south from the North Pole.
“Santa’s been spotted in Canada,” the announcer would say. “Santa was last seen over the Atlantic Ocean. Santa’s in France.” It made perfect sense to me. Europe is six hours ahead of us. They ought to receive their gifts first.
If memory serves me correctly, the show even provided weather reports along Santa’s route.
“I can’t understand why that program isn’t on anymore,” I say, shaking my head, as if it’s just one more sordid example–lest any were needed–of the media selling out, opting for fluff over hard news.
To Gracie and me, the biggest mystery isn’t how Santa knows whether you’ve been naughty or nice or how he slips into apartments without chimneys, but why Rudolph doesn’t get more press. It’s always “On Comet, on Cupid; on Donner and Blitzen….”
My wife doesn’t completely agree with my Santa-is-real attitude. “I’m a little concerned she’s going to be so traumatized when she finds out otherwise that we’ve got to be prepared to deal with it well,” she said. “If she says to us, ‘You’re Santa, aren’t you?’, I want to make sure I give her enough of a magical answer so she’s not completely disappointed.”
We always thought those most likely to spill the beans were the children in Gracie’s class who celebrate Hanukkah. “In New York, if you’re surrounded by a lot of Jewish kids during the holidays, they’re already told it’s a big hoax,” my wife observed.
That turns out to be not entirely true. I visited my daughter’s class and, much to my surprise, virtually all of them believed in Santa–even the Jewish kids. “When I was on a sleepover, I saw him,” said Julia. “I saw him flying in the air.”
“I saw his hat fall off once,” volunteered another child.
“Maybe it was your dad,” observed a skeptic.
“My dad isn’t bald,” countered the first kid.
Anthea didn’t see him once, but twice–two years in a row. “At my cousin’s house, we saw him in the backyard running around,” she reported. “We were going to invite him in for cookies, but he was too fast.”
Gracie hasn’t seen him, but she has heard him. “About two Christmases ago,” she told her classmates, “I heard one of the ornaments fall down and it actually broke. In the morning, it was broken.”
We thought this might be the year she shelved the jolly old elf for good. Instead, she’s embraced him more fervently than ever. Her belief was bolstered when I rented her the original Miracle on 34th Street –not as supporting evidence, but merely to keep her occupied while I napped. But she decided to treat the movie as a documentary rather than a work of fiction. She thinks everything in the film–like when Natalie Wood, who plays the little girl who believes in Kris Kringle, gets her dream house on Christmas Day–actually happened.
“Your parents couldn’t hide all those presents,” Gracie told me. “And they wouldn’t leave you alone [on Christmas Eve] and go out shopping–and all those stores wouldn’t be open.” (F.Y.I.: My brother, who doesn’t have kids, lives in my building; we hide the presents in his apartment.)
Last weekend, Gracie and a disbelieving friend had a conversation about Santa. Her friend denied Santa exists because nobody–my daughter’s classmates excluded–has ever seen him.
“Do you believe in God?” Gracie asked.
The girl said she did.
“Well, you can’t see God either,” Gracie said.
Gracie wants Santa to throw her a bone. “After you read this,” says a note she’s left under our Christmas tree, “please write a note for all the other kids telling them you are real.”
My pro-Santa attitude undoubtedly springs from my own family. We celebrated Christmas even though we were Jewish. My mother simply wasn’t going to let her kids–or herself, for that matter–miss out on such a glorious holiday. We also believed in the Easter Bunny.
As a matter of fact, I don’t think it was more than a decade ago that my mom stopped throwing Easter egg hunts–not for our kids, but for my brothers and me, and not because we were already in our 30’s and 40’s, but because it got to be a pain in the ass coordinating our schedules and getting us together to go searching simultaneously for our individual chocolate bunnies, eggs, jelly beans, etc.
I’m fully aware there are those who would argue that my mother, who also throws her dog rather lavish birthday parties, didn’t do us any favors by treating us like children when we’d already reached an age when we’re on cholesterol-lowering medication. And that I owe it to my own kids to tell them the truth.
But who’s to say what the truth is? Perhaps there isn’t any little old man whose belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly. But I can’t help but believe there’s something out there beyond the fringes of our understanding for whom, or which, Santa serves as a lovely metaphor. And it’s protecting us–even in these perilous times–from cynicism, if nothing else, in the same way the atmosphere protects the Earth from the indifference of interstellar space.
Gracie seems already to understand this. One of the doubting kids in her class says he’s going to stay up all night to see whether Santa really shows up. And there’s another second grader who lost faith when her mother slipped up and boasted, “Didn’t I get you a great TV?” when–oops!–it was supposed to have been from Santa. “They have a different spot for him in their heart,” Gracie explained. “For me, he’s right in the middle of my heart.”
Armchair psychologists would undoubtedly contend that there’s a simple explanation for my belief in Santa–that I don’t want my kids to grow up. Once they cease to believe in the old man, an indelible milestone on the road to adolescence and inevitably adulthood will have been passed.
But I’ve vowed to keep believing in him after they’re stopped. I mean, what’s the alternative? I asked my jaded older daughter what she’d say if Santa turned out to be real.
“If people found out there was a Santa,” she said, “they’d get very good security systems.”
She’s probably right. But with an attitude like that, can you blame me for wanting to perpetuate the myth as long as possible?