I WILL TELL YOU #50.1
Yes, Virginia, There’s Still A Santa Claus
Since this the first Christmas since the site went live, I’d like to repost a holiday piece I ran here last year but actually first wrote in 2005, a column that was the result of a really audacious idea I had.
What’s that idea, you ask? I will tell you. That idea was basically to write a modern day follow-up to to an editorial written by Francis Church that appeared in the New York Sun back in 1897. This 19th-century piece is not as obscure as it might seem, for this editorial became legendary over the past century, as it’s the basis for the legendary quote “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus.” And not that it was up to me, and not that I was the first or only person to do this, but I thought that a current, personal observation based on Church’s editorial was in order, especially since so many seem to have trouble finding the spirit of Christmas. So I went ahead and wrote this, my own attempt to validate that Church’s message is still valid over a century later, and to reignite the fire of the Christmas spirit for those where the flame might have gone out. Here it is.
And, of course, there was That Day when we found out about Santa Claus.
I remember That Particular Day in second grade, when I overheard a boy in class tell a girl “the truth” about Santa. A girl who had been a fellow believer, like I had been, up until that moment. I can’t say I was shocked; it sure explained a lot of things. Like how the handwriting on the gift tags looked a lot like my mother’s, and how Santa could have possibly remembered that one gift that I forgot to mention when my parents took me to see him at the mall. But I guess I can say I was disappointed; I immediately presumed that the same truth applied to The Easter Bunny and The Tooth Fairy; and somehow I knew that it was but the first of Those Days that every kid has to face before one could stay up late every night and eat dessert first and drive a car and do all of those other things that grown-ups do.
Of course, for my parents’ sake, I had to maintain the illusion. Oh, how disappointed they would be if I marched home and confronted them with the truth. They’d be heartbroken. I just wouldn’t be their dear little James anymore. I mean, every kid wishes they didn’t have to be a kid when it came time to have to wash their hands or clean their rooms. But every kid liked being a kid when it came to Santa. So for both their sakes as well as my own, I said nothing of this revelation. I let them believed that I still believed.
By the way, I turned 48 this year. I think Dad figured it out before he died a few years ago, and I’m pretty sure my mom has figured it out too, but I still keep my mouth shut. Just in case.
As I grew up, though, a funny thing happened. I had thought I no longer believed, but despite knowing the truth, I still chose to. I never stopped, really. By this time, I knew where babies, and presents, really came from, but unlike my friends and classmates, I chose not to disown the belief in the idea of Santa. Of course, no 14-year-old kid with fears of peer backlash would ever admit to this, so I kept to myself the notion that I liked to lay in bed on Christmas Eve and still pretend that, as I slept, jolly ol’ St. Nick still walked in through the door (no fireplace in my parents’ house) and left that pile of presents that my parents, sister, and I would find under the tree and enjoy the next morning.
Why would someone hold on to such a childhood fantasy? Maybe because they have to. You see, when we were kids, Christmas just happened, not quite by itself, but it almost seemed like it. We were just swept along. Dad would go out and buy a tree, haul it home, and set it up for decoration. Mom did most of the decorating and all of the shopping. And cooking. And as kids, we ventured over the river and through the woods, because Dad’s driving the car.
But once we grow up, we have to make it happen. We have buy the tree ourselves. We have to get out the decorations from the basement or attic. We have to fight traffic, both motor and pedestrian, at the shopping malls if we’re to provide those presents that used to magically appear under the tree. We have to buy and prep and cook the holiday feast. We have to make the travel arrangements if we’re to see our families over the holidays.
None of these are bad things, far from it. It’s hectic, sure, but enjoyable; we just have to willing to make the effort in order to yield the results we want: a happy and festive holiday. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but we have to expend a lot of effort to make it so.
Just like Santa did for us, when we were younger. So how can we not believe in Santa Claus? We are Santa Claus.
Ultimately, though, we believe not just because we feel the need to so that we can provide a nice Christmas for our loved ones. We believe because, deep down, we still want to believe. Santa provided us the kind of Christmas that we cherished as children, establishing the high-water mark that motivates us to do everything we can to provide the same kind of Christmas for our children. With feuding family members, financial problems, time constraints and the like, it’s certainly a challenge. If we wonder why Christmas might not seem as magical as it did when we were kids, we have to remember that it can be; we just have to try to make it that way. And we have to believe that we can.
No one needs a reminder of the kind of world we live in. The world is a beautiful, wonderful, and special place, but it’s one with its own very real and very severe set of problems. When we were kids, we didn’t worry about nuclear annihilation. We didn’t worry about getting robbed at gunpoint when our guard was down. We didn’t worry about being victims of suicidal maniacs who crash airplanes into skyscrapers. These threats were always there, but we didn’t worry, because we believed in good, and we believed in being good, and it wasn’t just because Santa was making a list and checking it twice. We were good, well, for goodness’ sake.
Today, all of these threats remain. We can choose to dwell on such matters, worrying about things that are not within our power to change. Or we can focus on something that we can change: trying to make the world a little better place, despite its troubles. Like giving a little more to a worthy charity, perhaps. Or doing something special for someone we care about. Or simply spending more time with those close to us.
You know, the kinds of things we do around Christmas.
How ‘bout this: let’s make today another one of Those Days where a startling truth is presented to us: the truth is, there is a Santa Claus, and there always has been. We never stopped believing.
We just thought we did.
Merry Christmas, everybody. And may God bless us, every one.