Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Do You Believe in Santa?

Day 24: Do you believe in Santa Claus?

When my sister was about nine or ten, she came to the realization that the presents under the tree that were labeled "From Santa" might actually have been put there by our parents. She stomped around the house, demanding to know, "Is Santa real?"

To which my ever-wise mother answered: "He's real in your heart."

"I don't want to know if he's real in my heart! IS SANTA REAL?"

My mother, like a Buddhist teacher with a particularly stubborn student, continued to repeat: "He's real in your heart."

This, in my mind, is the only possible true answer to this question. 

Sure, scientists and adventurers have been to the North Pole, and lo and behold, they did not find a gingerbread village filled with dancing elves creating lovably quaint wooden toys. Physicists have calculated the speed necessary for Santa to travel and deliver all those presents, speeds which would cause him to be invisible to the eye. The facts indicate that Santa is not real.

And I know many parents who don't "do" Santa (or even Christmas) because there seems to be something fundamentally wrong to them in the idea of intentionally causing their children to believe in a wonderful figure that isn't real. Others, rightly, point out that the American Santa appears to be a fundamentally unjust figure who gives wealthy children better toys than poor ones, tying wealth inextricably to goodness.

I see those points. Yet I don't think the definitions of "true" or "real" can be so simple, and myths like Santa Claus fall into a different kind of category. Myths can be true in a sense without conforming to scientific reality, because they use stories to express essential truths about the reality of the human condition. In a world where children will face disease, war, financial distress, and just plain ol' existential angst, believing in Santa for awhile can teach invaluable ways of being: to have faith in the face of long odds, to persist when faith seems lost, to show grace in cold times.

I "believed" in Santa for much longer than other children, because I saw his sleigh flying past my window on Christmas Eve when I was about six. I didn't "think" I saw the sleigh, or "dream" I saw the sleigh - I saw it, as I sat on my knees on my bed. It flew around the neighbor's house, a comet of light, casting an indelible arc in my memory as it turned to approach our roof. For years after that, my faith in Santa was unshakable. I don't have any explanation for what I saw, and I don't try to explain it. What's real in our hearts is often inexplicable.

St. Nicholas of Myra throws coins through
the window of three virgins who had no money for
a dowry. Santa Claus was born.

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