My eight-year-old son, Nathaniel, still believes in Santa. When he talks about Santa, he jumps up and down in small bursts of energy that he can’t contain. The other day I caught him looking up the chimney, trying to figure out how a fat man with a large sack of gifts could possibly get through such a small space. We also have to leave the requisite cookies and milk out for Santa when he comes. And maybe a few carrots in the yard for the reindeer.
Nathaniel’s belief in Santa doesn’t bother me. In fact, I think it’s beautiful. Imagine a world where a little eight-year-old boy still has the innocence to believe that a benevolent, overgrown elf flies around the world on Christmas eve delivering presents to good little boys and girls. It’s magical. And I love that about Nathaniel. He has a wonderful imagination. He loves stories about knights, dragons, wizards, Jedi, and ninja. Santa is just part of that magical world he believes in. I know it won’t last.
My daughter, Emilie, is older. She is in middle school now, and her favorite subject is science. She gets that from her mom. Emilie is more empirically driven. She likes data – things she can observe, quantify, and prove. Emilie believed in Santa up until third grade. Then one day, in a car ride home from school, she asked me straight up, “Dad, is Santa real?” I could tell the other kids had gotten to her. I opened with “Well…” and before I could play my usual game of “what do you believe” she said “No more stories. I just need to know the truth.”
A little part of me died that day. A little part of her as well. Innocence, I guess, has a short life. I told Emilie that there was no Santa, but that there used to be, or at least we think so. After telling her the story of St. Nicholas, I told Emilie that the spirit of St. Nick lives on through the love of those who put presents under the tree. In essence, the fact that we continue the good works of Saint Nick means Santa Clause is alive, and very much so for those who believe in him. I think Emilie understood, but I could tell the truth extinguished a little of the magic that makes childhood so special.
Emilie is older now, and understands better what I was trying to tell her that day. She takes great joy in finding Christmas gifts for people, and playing along with Nathaniel’s belief in Santa Clause. I often catch her smiling at me with a little twinkle in her eye when Nathaniel prattles on about Santa’s impending visit. She knows. I know she knows. Nathaniel will know soon enough. But for today, for this year, Santa is coming.
And we believe.