This I Believe
I believe in Santa Claus. Not like the eight-year-old who still thinks Santa is real. I believe in the belief.
For those few years as a child when I lived in the wonder of the world, the rite of Santa Claus was arresting and all-encompassing. Unseen, unheard, only rumored, this magical being nevertheless produced real treasures at an appointed hour. Tangible evidence of a presence I never physically experienced.
When I was too young to understand the analogy of a Father in Heaven like a father on Earth, I easily grasped the loving, caring, nurturing spirit of Santa’s gifts. I didn’t know it then, but believing in Santa was a way to learn faith in God.
In second grade the whispering started: “Did you hear Johnny say that there’s no Santa Claus?” Wide-eyed, I listened. Then stood tongue-tied when asked, “Do YOU believe in Santa Claus?” It was a profound moment, like the one a few years later when my best friend explained sex to me. At those moments, I left behind a piece of childhood and faced the fresh, surprising, and sometimes scary adventure of life unfolding.
Of course I couldn’t appear “baby” enough to admit I still believed in Santa. But I don’t remember any regret about disavowing him, only a sweet feeling of sophistication. Children are so eager to grow up. We turned our backs on Santa, even as we let our parents continue playing the game.
How long, I wonder, did eight-year-old Virginia believe in Santa Claus after her cry for the “truth” about him was answered in The Sun that Tuesday in 1897. Did newsman Francis Church tip her off when he likened Santa Claus to “love, generosity and devotion,” to “childlike faith,” and “romance,” or when he told her, “The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.”
Church reminded us all, as Shakespeare and Saint-Exupery did, as the Bible does, that the world is full of unseen and unforeseeable wonders — unless we perceive with the heart.
I gave up my belief in a tangible Santa, but I never lost the feeling Santa Claus brought to Christmas time, when all our desires are known and just might be fulfilled. Perhaps children are living somewhere who get everything on the long list that starts with “Dear Santa Claus” and ends with “I’ve been good.” I never did. But if I never got that pony, then that was a lesson, too. How many prayers go unanswered, leaving us to work out why.
Maybe as a child I needed no help in believing in an unseen God. Maybe the spirit of giving was cheapened by the image of a fat man in a red suit.
But how fine it is to learn through the senses, and how permanent. Those especially warm hugs from Grandma and Grandpa, the singing of ancient carols and hymns, tinkling bells, sparkling ornaments, fragrant kitchens, the ripping of Christmas wrap and those surprises under the tree all left indelible tracks in my psyche.
Every year the lights, colors, sounds, scents and tastes of Christmas traditions – including Santa Claus – lead me back to belief.
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