I wrote this a decade ago, the year my daughter started to wonder if Santa was real…
I suspected the jig was up when she asked flat out: Is there really a tooth fairy?
Since that day several months ago, I knew this Christmas was going to be different for my daughter Emily and for me.
It’s a very short trip from pondering the tooth fairy to questioning the Easter bunny to doubting Santa Claus, and this is the year she started that journey.
As surely as parents delight in the wonder on their children’s faces when Santa fulfils their wishes, we squirm when they start to wonder exactly how he gets to so many houses – and more perplexing, how he gets into them.
“Who wants to go down a chimney anyway?” Emily asked recently, her mind in full flight as she considered all the obstacles Santa must face on Christmas Eve.
But doubt as she might, she was not willing to give up completely on the man who had been so faithful on her seven previous Christmas Days.
“It would be too hard for him to go to every house, so I think maybe there are teams of people who do certain areas,” she surmised. “I still don’t know how they get into the houses though.”
After a weekend of conversations like this, she finally pleaded: “Tell me, please. I have to know. Is Santa real?”
I imagine the feeling of that moment will return the day she decides it’s time to buy her first bra, but I’m willing to wait and see.
Faced with such an emotional plea, I did what any 21st-Century parent would do – I ran out of the room, straight for my computer.
In less than a minute, I had found Francis Church’s famous editorial, printed in New York in 1897, ‘Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus’.
I dashed upstairs to Emily’s room, where she was sitting, waiting for an answer. The editorial would solve everything, so I began to read aloud.
With no Santa, “there would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in the sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”
Huh? As my daughter’s eyes rolled to the back of her head, I considered two possibilities.
Either children in the 1890s were a lot more literate than their counterparts today, or perhaps the editorial was written for adults and not children at all.
Either way, this wasn’t going to sate Emily’s curiosity or get me off the hook. In the end, I did more listening than explaining. I let her talk herself into a world in which love and kindness produce a kind of magic at Christmastime that no one can fully understand.
We are all Santa’s helpers, but we never know what the outcome of everyone’s efforts will be.
I sidestepped the chimney question entirely, and that seemed OK with Emily. She was more than happy to embrace a world in which there are miracles and not everything can be explained.
And come to think of it, so am I.