“Daddy guess what, there is no Santa Claus, my friends at school told me!” Two years ago December, my then seven-year-old daughter Madi came home from school to start Christmas break with the inevitable story of how her friends at school said that there really was no Santa Claus. “Their Mom and Dad said so too.” I was caught off-guard and didn’t expect to hear this quite so soon.
Too many parents these days are careless or apathetic about Santa, and it shows. The statistical age of a child losing their belief in Santa Claus has dropped in the last 30 years from 11-12 years old to 8-9 years old. We are losing something here; our information age is missing some important information.
The question parents should be asking is not whether we believe in Santa Claus, but why we believe in Santa Claus. Some of you may know my view of the importance of childhood wonder, (see PART V: Father/Daughter Stories October 23), the ability to be inspired by the unseen and unknowable is a cornerstone of a happy adult life. The knowledge that there is a benevolence in the world that knows, cares, and provides for us no matter who we are is a basic human necessity. How some parents can be so attached to their rationality that they are willing to rattle the wonder and magic out of a child’s head is beyond me.
Thus confronted however, I had to think fast. I fell back on my improv training. First rule of improv, agree with the premise. I answered without hesitation.
“Well of course there isn’t.”
“There’s not??” She was surprised and a little alarmed.
“Not for them anyway. The reality is that if you don’t believe in Santa Claus then he doesn’t exist. And, he won’t leave you presents. These kids who don’t believe in Santa anymore, do they get presents from him?”
“I don’t think so, they say it’s their parents are doing it.”
“Exactly! Presents from parents pretending to be Santa, but not really from Santa, because he doesn’t come to their house, because they don’t believe.”
“You get presents from Santa, because you believe in Santa, right?”
Success for now, but it was only triage, doubts still lingered with her. If Madi stopped believing in Santa Claus, then Santa would stop visiting our house, and that would be sad. I needed a longer-term solution, something that would stick, but how do you fight the kids-at-school, the modern, empirical, verifiable, sensible, rational, mundane of the world. Ironic isn’t it? How readily some give up the Santa myth, but not the merch.? –Black Friday indeed.
Christmas Eve came, Madi was snug in her bed, Clement Clarke Moore’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” read, and visions of sugar plumbs already dancing in her head. I went downstairs to put out MY presents to her.
I had found no solution. Upset and bereft, I stood staring at the tree puzzling like the anti-Grinch with his finger to his chin.
“I must save Santa, but how…?”
When in doubt, follow the premise, if this then what? Improv had spoken, it was clear that what I needed was PROOF, but how can you prove the un-provable?
“Screw this, I’ve got work to do.”
I had unfinished business at my computer. I didn’t have the resources, the program, or the technical expertise to finish my work, so it took me another four grueling hours before I was satisfied. I went to bed near three am.
At five thirty Madi bounds into my room, ready to go downstairs.
“Hang on a minute, let me check my iphone first.” I thumbed through my phone as her impatience roiled.
“Okay, let’s… What the f**k is that!! Wait…! Holy sh*t! I can’t f**kin’ believe this!!”
“Oh, sorry sweet pea, pardon my French. (still staring at my phone) You just won’t believe this picture!”
“Lemme see!” she reached for the phone, and I yanked it away.
“Wait, I’m looking!”
“Daddy lemme see lemme see!!!”
“Okay, let me tell you first… Last night I was finishing up some work on my computer, it was a huge pain in the butt you would not believe… but anyway, I heard this thumping from upstairs. I thought maybe you fell out of bed, but when I checked on you, you were fine. So I went down stairs to set out my presents to you, and stopped to take a picture of the tree. You know that ornament that your aunt and I used to say was our favorite that belonged to your great grandmother? I took a shot of that, and here’s the picture.” I handed her the phone. She stared intently at the photo.
“I don’t see it”
“Look at the window behind the tree.”
“I don’t see it!”
“Look in the lower right hand corner of the window, what do you see there?” Suddenly her eyes snapped wide and she inhaled like she had just come up from deep underwater.
This cropped version doesn’t have Great grandma’s ornament in it.
“WHO IS THAT!”
“Whom does it look like?”
“Oh my gosh it’s SANTA! It’s Santa, it’s Santa daddy, you got a real picture of the REAL Santa, an actual picture of the actual Santa!”
“It sure looks like it.”
“Did you do that?”
“Hell no, I’m as surprised as you are. (I enlarged the picture.) Look at the glare on his face from the reflection of the tree lights. They are in front of his face. Whatever is there was outside the window. Let’s go down and see what he brought.”
“I can’t believe you got a picture of the real Santa, daddy you have to send this to the Smifso… Smifisonio…”
“I’ll email the curator tomorrow, they’re closed today. We must be the only ones Madi.”
When we got downstairs we looked from the same position I took the photo. I went outside to stand in the garden to judge his height, and then came back in.
“From the look of it, he is between four and five feet tall, and has a pretty big head; the only tracks where right by the window, so it couldn’t be somebody else. He must have just come down from the roof, and that thumping sound I heard was probably him landing on the roof.”
I checked the NORAD map of Santa’s flight we track and concluded that the photo was taken at roughly the same time that Santa hit North America. After we examined the milk and cookies, and read the note from Santa wishing us a merry Christmas, telling Madi that she was a good girl this year, and suggesting that her dad get to bed earlier, we ransacked the presents under the tree.
Later we sat on the couch and mused over the photo again.
“You know what I think Madi? I think that nobody sees Santa unless he wants to be seen. I think he meant to be in that picture, came down from the roof for just that purpose, because he wanted us to know that he is real.”
“That must be true Dad.”
The next Christmas Madi used that photo to make her own Christmas cards to her Mom and Dad. When this question comes up again, I will be prepared, I am saving this…
It’s also for you, dear blog reader, a Christmas present from me, and here it is…
If you have never actually read, in its entirety, the September 21, 1897 editorial in The New York Sun, by Francis Pharcellus Church, here it is for you.
This is a photo of the actual clipping. In it, Church answers an important question from an eight-year-old girl by the name of Virginia O’Hanlon. She wrote to the newspaper at the suggestion of her father who assured her that, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”
Church’s answer to this ubiquitous childhood question is the most profound and enduring answer to a “skeptical age”, which you or I or anyone since can come close to.
For our children, Santa is real; for us he is a metaphor for something that is as real as you or I.
Virginia O’Hanlon’s home at 115 West 95th Street as it appears today. Notice the plaque out front.
Have a very merry Christmas everyone!