The other day my son who is in Kindergarten asked me if Santa was real or just a story. Apparently, any time his teacher or one of his classmates mentions anything about Santa Claus, there is one little boy in the class that insists that Santa is not real.
My son asks me again, “Santa isn’t real, is he?”
This is a hard question for me to answer. I remember as a child, I desperately wanted to believe in Santa, but my parents were staunch anti-Santaists. Something about flying reindeer landing so gently on the roof that the sound of their hooves didn’t wake anyone was secretly exciting to me. I never really questioned how Santa might actually get into our house since we didn’t have a fireplace. I guess I didn’t care. The story intrigued me.
The first time I really struggled with what I call “The Santa Question” was when my oldest child was born. I had heard from some of my friends stories of devastation and even violent anger when they found out that Santa was a myth. One of my friends actually chased her brother around the kitchen with a knife screaming, “Take it back! Take it back!” That worried me. I could hear my dad saying, “When a child finds out there isn’t a Santa Claus, he will never trust his parents again because they are liars.” Devastation? Violent anger? Liar? It all seemed so extreme to me. I cringed thinking about how there was so much potential for great disappointment and hurt during a season that was about hope and love, so I decided to be a conservative anti-Santaist. I rejected adhering to either of the extremes: no declaring all out war on Santa or pushing my daughter into believing whole heartedly the story of Santa. Instead I decided to lovingly explain that Santa was a really cool story that is fun and imaginative, but we must remember that it isn’t true. A balanced approach to Santa seemed like the best decision.
When my oldest was about 5 years old, she started bringing up the Santa Question soon after Thanksgiving when Christmas decorations and Santa Claus started to appear. I gave her my well thought-out explanation, and she seemed content with that. I felt like a top-notch mom.
That bubble burst when she returned home after spending Christmas with her father convinced that not only had she seen Santa flying over Omaha on the news Christmas eve, but she also saw his foot print outside her Papa’s picture window Christmas morning.
“Why would the news show Santa flying over Omaha if it wasn’t true?” She demanded. “And how did his foot print get in the snow outside of Papa’s window. There were reindeer tracks, too. How did they get there when everyone was in bed?” I tried explaining that the news used special effects to show Santa flying over the city, that Papa or her father had put the foot print there, and as for the reindeer tracks, they lived in a forest with an abundance of deer! The more I tried to explain to her that it was just a story and her father and Papa were just having fun with her, the angrier she became. I tried to calm her by refocusing her attention to the real meaning of Christmas, but the more I did that, the angrier she became.
“I’m not listening to you!” She yelled. “You’re a liar!”
Wait a minute! I’m the liar?
I’m the liar?
I’m the liar? I wasn’t supposed to be the one who was called the liar. I was the only one telling the truth!
I was livid.
My plan obviously did not work. After a cooling down period on her part and a rabid conversation with her father on my part in which I most certainly made an ass of myself, my daughter and I agreed not to talk about Santa.
A year later, The Autobiography of Santa Claus became the answer to my problem. The author, Jeff Guinn, folds facts from history and religion together with myth and legend to show how Santa Claus was created. The book begins with Guinn being invited to the North Pole where Santa recounts his life story. Santa explains that he was born Nicholas in 283 A.D. in Lycia to wealthy parents who died while he was young, leaving him to be raised by priests. He loved Jesus and became a priest himself, and he learned how to be discreetly generous to the poor. Santa explains one incident in which a father with three daughters of marrying age did not have enough money to provide their dowries. Knowing the man would not accept such a generous gift, Father Nicholas, over the span of a few nights, tossed small bags of coins into the open windows of the house. From this point in his life story, Santa recounts how his fame grew into the story that we now know.
With 25 chapters, readers are encouraged to travel through a chapter each night in December. It is a wonderful little book that provided me with a wonderful little way of explaining Santa without feeling as if I was compromising my position on the Santa Question.
Having read The Autobiography of Santa Claus with my oldest, who is now graduating high school, she came to know that Santa is based on a real person who served Christ. She also came to understand that St. Nicholas’s life grew into the legend of Santa Claus. My second-grader and kindergartener have both heard the story of St. Nick as presented by Santa, and to varying degrees, understand the complexities of the story.
So how did I answer my son’s question? I replied, “Why yes, son, Santa was real. Let me explain.”