“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”
– Conductor Polar Express
Two years ago, when Veronica was in first grade, she started having doubts.
She asked me several times that December, “Mama, is Santa for real?”
I cringed inside, Oh dear God here we go, but my response was consistent: “What do you think?”
She’d say, “I think he’s real.”
A few days, maybe a week, would pass and she’s ask me again, “Mama, is Santa for real?”
My response was the same, yet something about Santa wasn’t making sense to her anymore. And she was looking to me to wonder and to help her know the truth. I knew she was questioning is it you mom or is it the big guy?
I got it.
I get it.
The physical idea of Santa is a bit far fetched, really.
There’s a dude that comes down your chimney, eat your cookies, and leaves you gifts.
What the what.
That’s a whole lotta creepy.
That year, we went to our spot – 900 North Michigan – to see Santa. The day we went he was not there. He was absent. He was out sick – due to a migraine.
Imagine, Santa with a migraine. … I wonder why?
By the time I pulled into a spot in the 900 North Michigan garage, I had five texts from my husband:
“Shit, our guy is out today!”
“Santa is not here.”
“There’s a Santa stand in.”
“What do you want to do?”
As we walked into the Bloomie’s building to meet up with dad, I asked her, “Do you think this is a Santa helper or the real deal?”
Without hesitation, she responded, “Oh, the real deal.”
See for yourself.
I mean, seriously. Can you imagine a disbelief after meeting this guy? (Here’s a link to a commercial advertising his arrival).
I knew right then that the Santa story would be blown if we went to see a Santa stand in.
I texted my husband – abort!
My husband took the fall and said that he must have gotten the day wrong.
She was a little skeptical at first, but bought the storyline and we left, with a promised return as soon as my husband was emailed by Santa’s people. We made up for it that night by driving by the lights at Kevin’s House.
This year, she’s still questioning.
Last week she asked Suri, “Is Santa real?”
Suri’s response: “Let’s just say I’m not the only one who know if you’ve been good or bad.”
She asked again and got: “I’m going to pretend you didn’t ask that. I don’t want you to get a lump of coal this year.”
And again. Suri kept it cool: “Let me put it this way: I get a lot of requests from the North Pole asking who’s been naughty or nice.”
Veronica liked Suri’s responses.
Yesterday, we waited for two hours in line to see Santa. As we waited, we practiced how to say Merry Christmas in Polish. Every year, Santa gives us a hard time because we’ve got quite the Polish last name and fail at how to say Merry Christmas in Polish.
I consulted my Polish friend for the pronunciation. It’s a tough language –Wesołych Świąt. When my student’s complain about the French language, I’m going to write Wesołych Świąt on the board and have them try that.
Wesołych Świąt. Wesołych Świąt.
Veronica stopped the repetition and said to us, “I’m going to ask Santa to tell me my name.”
Ruh roh. Here’s where the whole operation blows up.
When it was our turn, the girls hopped right on his lap.
He started, “Well hello Veronica and Stella. It’s the ______ (insert our last name). Now, (and he turned to Stella), you’re five this year, right?”
Stella nodded in bewilderment.
Then he said to Veronica, “And you’re eight.”
Veronica’s face broke into a grin and she said Merry Christmas to him in Polish.
“I can’t believe he knew my name,” she said as we walked to our car. (It turns out my husband slipped out of line and handed the photographer a little note of explanation. I love that man more and more every day. xo.)
That was magical.
There’s an 80 percent chance Veronica doesn’t believe in the “real” Santa. She’s had these clues to Santa’s non-existence:
- Bus Rider: She takes the bus to school everyday. Bus talk is quite colorful – dingle berries, swear words, and yes, is Santa real?
- Kids Told the Truth: Last winter, one of Veronica’s friends told her, “there’s no Santa. My dad says there’s no Santa. He says he’s the one who bought my bike.”
- Less versus More: She’s noticed a disparity between the gifts they receive and the ones that other kids receive.
- Inconsistencies: We wrap all of our Santa presents in Santa-themed paper and have one of their grandparents write the note. We make magic reindeer dust and celebrate St. Nick on December 6th. Other friends do the Elf on the Shelf.
- Santa isn’t universal: My girls have quite a few friends who are Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas.
But the part of her that does believe is holding strong.
We watched the Polar Express a few days ago and she said, “He can’t hear the bells because he doesn’t believe. But I believe.”
I don’t want to be the one to say to her, “You’re right, Santa isn’t real. It’s your dad and I.” I don’t have the heart to break the news about real versus spirit because I believe in the very real spirit of giving.
I want them to believe that the spirit is real and that giving is Santa.
I want them to believe that the true spirit of Christmas lies in their hearts.
They can be kind and generous in their words and actions.
They can be loving, charitable, and joyful.
As Francis Pharcellus Church wrote to Virginia in the New York Sun, “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS.”
Veronica may not believe that Santa is “real,” and I’m okay with her knowing that the spirt is what is alive.
Shhh, though, I just don’t want her to ruin the magic for her sister, who’s three years her junior.
This week we were driving home from school, singing along to Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, when Stella proclaimed in a confident voice:
I believe in God.
I believe in fairies.
And the Tooth Fairy.
And I believe in Santa.
She’s a force of conviction.
Like Stella, I believe in things bigger and beyond me.
I believe in things that cannot be explained.
There’s something special about the inconceivable idea of Santa. It’s larger than life.
It’s mysterious and requires faith.
It’s magical. And I believe there’s magic in this world.
So, as for me …
Revision: My great aunt, who speaks Polish, told me that Wesołych Świąt is actually not Merry Christmas, but Happy Holidays. Sorry about that, all. I was going with what Santa told us in 2013 and again in 2014 to say.
P.S. Here’s a link to four letters written to children about Santa.