When I was in third grade, waiting in line with my class for a drink at the water fountain, one of my classmates started going down the line, asking everyone if they believed in Santa Claus. It was obvious by the reactions to kids who answered in the affirmative that believing in Santa was for babies. I was very torn because I didn’t want the ridicule of my peers but I still believed in Santa. I started getting very nervous as the Santa interrogation got closer and closer. When finally confronted, I blurted out, “No way!” and the kid moved on, asking on down the line.
I felt horrible. In my weekly religious ed class, I had heard the story of Peter denying Christ three times and I had always hated Peter for that. Yet, there I was, doing the same thing with Santa. “How could you, Cynthia?” I thought. That night at home I cried and cried and got a nosebleed, horrified that I had hurt Santa’s feelings (I mean, he sees me when I’m sleeping, how could he not see me at school?) and terrified that I wouldn’t receive any presents that year due to my betrayal.
There was no shortage of melodrama in my childhood.
Another year, I can’t remember if it was before or after the Great Santa Betrayal of ’79, I thought I saw Santa Claus actually delivering presents in my family’s living room. An actual sighting! Years later, I found out that instead of seeing Santa, what I saw was my older brother, sneaking around to see whether or not he had received a ten speed bike. Needless to say, finding out the truth was a bit of a letdown.
However, with the exception of accidentally seeing Santa/my brother on a late night bathroom trip, I didn’t really try and catch a glimpse of Santa when I was little. It never occurred to me that he wasn’t real. Everyone told me he was real. The story behind the Christmas special, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” seemed logical enough. True, the Santa in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” seemed sort of mean but I chose to overlook this crabby Santa exception, maybe Santa was just having a bad day. The entire Santa story of kindness and presents and joy and flying reindeer….well, how could something so good NOT be true?
I knew that there was, in fact, a St. Nicholas, whom the Santa Claus legend was based upon. He was a bishop in the 4th century who was quite charitable and went out of his way to help children. True, his stories of alms to the poor and similar acts of kindness didn’t have the same flash as the Santa Claus of my beloved Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. However, if there really and truly had been a St. Nicholas, then why couldn’t there STILL be a St. Nick who was sure to bring me each and every Star Wars-action figure on my list?
Obviously, I was a staunchly pro-belief in Santa Claus.
Years went by and I never really again was faced with having to admit, publicly, as I had in third grade, whether or not I still believed in Santa. It appeared that the Santa question was now a non-issue.
Recently, I was thinking about the Great Santa Betrayal of ’79 and it occurred to me that if I was going to be honest with myself, I had to admit that yes, I still believed in Santa.
Yes, my name is Cynthia and I believe in Santa Claus.
No, not the Santa Claus that delivers presents to every child in the world on Christmas Eve. Not the Santa whose sleigh will be led by Rudolph. I don’t make a list each year and mail it to the North Pole.
I believe in the same Santa Claus as the editor who responded to little Virginia Hanlon when she wrote to New York’s newspaper “The Sun” and asked if there was, indeed, a Santa Claus:
“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. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.” Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus
So, now I have made amends for the Great Santa Betrayal of ’79. I believe in you, Santa, just not exactly in the same way that I did when I was 8 years old.
But just in case I am mistaken, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a Millennium Falcon under the tree.
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