I recently asked the children I babysit if they were ready for Santa. The twin 9 year old boys and 11 year old girl all looked at me with a puzzled expression. One of the twins spoke up, saying, "We know he's not real. You don't have to pretend with us." Then I gave him a puzzled expression. Before I could rebut with, "Yes huh he IS real," his twin brother said, "Shut up! She still believes in him!"
It's true... I do. I've believed in the big man since I was a tike sitting on his lap and rambling off my list of Christmas Wishes. When I was around 8 years old, I heard the kids at school talking about how Santa Claus isn't real. Of course I asked my mother about it.
"Of course he's real." She said.
"But the kids at school say that parents are the ones who put the gifts under the tree and eat the cookies and drink the milk."
"The kids at school are wrong."
"But it makes sense. I mean, how can one man get all over the world and visit everybody in one night?"
I will admit that I am quite gullible at times, but even my 8 year old self had a hard time believing this. Especially since all the kids at school were telling me it was a big conspiracy. I decided to save face with my mother and simply pretend to still believe that year. And when I woke up on Christmas morning I made a big production of thanking Santa in order to keep my mother happy. The following year I leveled with her and I told her I knew the truth.
"So, I guess that means you won't be getting as many gifts this year? Santa only brings gifts to children who believe in him."
"Well, it's simple. If you say you don't believe in him, then he doesn't exist. If he doesn't exist then what's the point in presents?"
Well, I never thought about it like that. She had a point. Like any other child I didn't want a Christmas with no new toys to play with. So, once again I put on an even bigger production of believing in Santa. My plan worked and I didn't get a lump of coal in my stocking.
As the years marched on I made it a point not to question Santa's existence. When my younger step-sister learned the same way I did that "If you want presents, you believe," she, too, shut the hell up.
I guess it is a form of bribery, but really, it isn't. With maturity I understood my mother's motives. She wasn't trying to lie or keep me in the dark. She was simply trying to keep the spirit of gift giving alive. To her, Santa is an invisible force... an anonymous donor of good cheer. He reminds us of the people we love and why we go out of our way to show them how we feel during the holiday season. Plus, he's jolly and surprisingly agile.
Santa takes many forms. He's a Marine collecting new unwrapped toys for children. He's ringing a bell for The Salvation Army outside of the mall. He's an anonymous person paying off layaway tabs at K-mart for total strangers. He's the woman working at the Food Pantry on Christmas Eve. He's inside of each and every one of us. When you least expect it he will show up and make you wonder why you ever doubted his existence at all.