Someone told you on the playground a few weeks ago that there is no Santa. That he isn’t real. That it’s all just a made up thing we grown-ups tell you children as long as you’ll believe us.
“But you know what, Mommy?” you said, after telling me what this other child had told you, “I think she’s wrong. I believe he’s real. Do you?”
And even now, as I recall what you said to me, what you asked of me, I can feel how my heart constricted at your words, and how I had to fight back a very large lump that suddenly insisted on working its way up my throat. I knew this day was coming. You’re so grown. So smart. So attentive and observant. And your dad and I, we said to each other just last week this might be the last year we really have to worry about a specifically “Santa” present. Fast like lightning you are growing up. And I cannot stop it.
So, I took a deep breath, and I said, “Yes. I do.”
And I do.
But maybe not in the way you do. Maybe not in the way the malls or the catalogs or the photo opportunities with various “Rent-A-Santas” would have you believe.
I believe in Santa the same way I believe in folk tales and little people and fairy dust. The same way I believe in the possibility that at the very core of the ginkgo trees I love so much is, in fact, a heart that beats with the fierce commitment to survival ginkgos are known for. The same way I believe in Harry Potter and Aslan. In Peter Pan and Wendy. And even flying reindeer.
I believe in these things, in these stories and these people, because they have, in large part, made me who I am. They’ve taught me about hope and grit and possibility. About being who you are, no excuses. About how good always–always–in the end, triumphs. There is a great deal about this world I do not know or understand. A whole lot that I only catch glimpses of now and then–and these stories, they help me remember to keep looking. To keep searching for that which feeds my spirit and fills my heart. To keep trusting that no matter how strong the White Witch or Voldemort might be, they are nothing when compared to the forces of love and joy.
And I believe that at the heart of the story of Santa Claus there is something to be learned about gratitude. About giving. About what it means for all children to know they are loved.
But all this aside and said, my girl, you know that Santa is not the most important part of Christmas for me. For you, either. You know that we focus most of our time on what God is up to during this season. We talk about Mary and Joseph and Jesus, and we light candles and we pray and sing. We celebrate our family and we make cookies for our friends. And your mommy…well, this year, I’m working on forgiveness. On all things new. On what it means to see the long view, instead of the “right now” view. And probably most of that doesn’t even matter to you right now. But one day it might. And I want so much to have shown you the way–the way past bitterness and heartache and into life.
It’s possible, too, that the little girl who told you there’s no Santa said so because she’s never gotten a Christmas gift. She might live in a family or a situation where such things are not done. Or where such things cannot be done. She might live in poverty. In neglect. And her telling you, “There’s no such thing,” is her own last defense of what the world has handed her. And if any of this is true, my heart breaks for her–not because of Santa, but because no child should feel alone. Or know hunger. Or lack shelter. Or feel excluded from possibilities this time of year brings us.
Or maybe she just doesn’t need fairy tales. And that’s okay.
It can be a very difficult and lonely word, Curly Girl. Even–and sometimes especially–at Christmas. There are children all over the world crying out in desperation, in frantic search of food and love and safety, and I struggle with what it means to talk to you about Santa in the midst of all that. But somehow…I do.
For whatever reason, I am able to hold together my love for the story of Santa, and my commitment to the story of my Christian faith. I hope you can, too, one day. I hope you continue to love stories. To revel in that which is unseen. To keep believing that under the mushrooms that pop up after a spring rain in Kentucky there are tiny fairies flitting about.
And I hope, too, that you continue to clearly recognize and deeply feel all that’s wrong with this world, and use that loving and courageous and imaginative heart you have to do something about it. Because that’s what Christmas is really about–this radical and defiant and courageous compassion, set loose in a tiny baby, that God’s people might know a bit more about what it means to love and be loved.
I don’t know if any of this will make sense to you, my precious girl. But today, in the midst of a holiday season already off to a lovely and busy start, it’s what I’ve got. And I offer it to you with all my love. And with all the joy that your beautiful life has brought me.
I love you,