I loved Santa when I was a kid, and I cherished the belief in the magic of it all long past the time when others my age had moved on. (I kept the faith long enough to have the interest in calculating the mathematical possibility of getting to every house in every country at exactly midnight, taking time zones into account, for example.)
I "found out" about Santa rather abruptly one summer day, courtesy my sister Noreen.
Family lore has it that Noney "wrote the book on kindness," I'll have you know. Rest assured, it's true; and I don't hold this black mark on her otherwise stellar record against her. Too much.)
(Aside: When I bought Lovasik's Kindness book, The Chief's only comment was, "Who's Lawrence Lovasik? I thought Aunt Noney wrote that book.")
So, as I was saying. We were jumping rope in the driveway, and I (who would never have been mistaken for being the original Kindness author) was hogging the rope. In utter frustration, Noney stomped her foot and said, "You're such a baby, you still believe in Santa Claus!"
Oh, yes, she did.
I stared at her blankly for a minute. What kind of an insult was that? It was as if she'd said, "You're such a baby, you still think your eyes are brown."
Ever ready for a good debate, I took her up on the theological argument for a moment or two, and then...it happened. For the first time in my life, I experienced something dark and awful.
"MAA-AAH!" (think loud, whiny doorbell), I shouted as I indignantly ran into the house. "Noreen says there's no Santa Claus!"
"Maa-aah" was sitting at the kitchen table, nursing a full cuppa, her probably seconds-long moment of peaceful solitude shattered.
My parents had a policy. It's called, "Tell the Truth." They promoted Mr. Claus, for sure; but when confronted with "The Question" directly, they always and immediately came clean.
I saw her take a deep, "here we go again" breath, and she proceeded to calmly give me the straight scoop. It really wasn't so bad. I giggled wide-eyed as she let me in on one of the world's most amazing secrets, and how it played out even with my own favorite gifts over the years. I'll always cherish the story of my Christmas dog, Buffy, and how she was kept in a little open box at my dad's office, waiting to be brought home to me.
It was a loving and kind conversation, and, though actually fairly brief, I count it among the most wonderful conversations I've ever shared with my mom.
(So don't worry, Noney. If I have anything to say about it, you won't be spending any time in Purgatory on my account. At least not for this particular transgression.) :)
So I had no doubt, as a kid at least, that Santa would be a delightful participant in our family Christmas celebrations all my life.
It wasn't until I was an adult and began to "think" about the implications of encouraging my children to believe an "untruth"--especially one tied so thoroughly to the One Truth--that my relationship to things Santa became more uneasy.
My roommate's Fiance came over one evening at Christmastime, carrying a small statue of Santa kneeling at a manger. Oh, this bothered me, and I said so. I thought it relegated both images to the realm of myth. Santa and Jesus, I insisted, had to be kept very, very separate.
Then along came St. Nicholas. We never celebrated St. Nicholas Day when I was little, though I looked on my friends who did with a mildly jealous curiosity (there was chocolate involved, after all). As an adult, I observed an effort to integrate the image of St. Nicholas with that of Santa, and I didn't like that, either. I didn't mind saying that "Santa" is derived from "St. Nicholas," of course; but one image is a secular myth, and the other a Holy man who lived to honor a very real God. It's not like the "real" St. Nicholas puts candy in your shoes, after all. How is that any more truthful, I thought, than just encouraging the belief in Santa outright?
So when my own children came along, I wondered if we should even bother with the Santa myth at all. As it turned out, though, since Step 1 and Step 2 were already in the picture and already invested, there really wasn't much of a decision to be made. Santa was here, and that was that; we'd just have to deal with the consequences, I guessed. Besides, celebrating Santa with little children, I discovered, is really fun. Snotty, know-it-all doubts are quick to melt away in the innocent, believing eyes of a 5 year old child.
What happened to me is this: I began to remember, clearly, how it felt to believe in Santa. I recently saw a man on the Antiques Roadshow, wondering what might be the value of his (I think) great grandmother Virginia's original letter to the New York Sun...and I just started to cry (I think the appraiser almost did, too!)
The wonder and magic of it all is precious to me...and I can't think of any other experience in life that feels quite the same way.
I'm not sure how to explain this, but I can't help believing that, somehow, that feeling must point to something wonderful about God. Don't ask me how; but everything truly beautiful ultimately does. (And maybe that's exactly what my friend's Kneeling Santa statue was trying to articulate. Peggy Noonan wrote this beautiful essay for the Wall Street Journal a few years ago that comes very close to articulating it as well.)
Thus, in the face of the inexplicably wonderful, intellectual uneasiness has been cast aside.
So, of course, does my parents' "Tell the Truth" policy.
My children may or may not be caught up in the mystical, magical wonder of it all to the same degree that I was; but the opportunity is there.
And that's how we handle Santa at our house.