“Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus.”
The story behind the well-known phrase that inspired a book and a movie is a story about belief. In 1897, after being told by some of her friends that Santa wasn’t real, a little girl named Virgina wrote to the New York Sun asking for the truth. The Editor, Francis Church’s, response was a beautiful treatise on the power of belief and imagination, and I think it is a message that should not be forgotten.
I thought last Christmas was my daughter’s last year to believe. In the weeks before Christmas, there were several comments about what her friends said about Santa, but she still expressed belief, and on Christmas morning, there were no signs of doubt. Then I thought, this year, for sure, she would be certain of the truth. As the holiday season neared, even before Halloween, the comments started, but I must be honest, I don’t think I handled them well. She always seemed to make the comments in front of her younger sister, whose imagination I just wasn’t ready to burst yet; so, I’d ensure them that he was real or redirect the conversation, telling myself that when it was just the two of us, I’d share the truth about Santa. But she never brought it up when it was just us, and I couldn’t bring myself to start the conversation.
Then, just over a week before Christmas this year, I overheard her playfully arguing with friends about whether or not Santa was real as they climbed off the bus. She came up to me and shouted, “They say Santa’s not real, but he is!”
I had the opportunity to be bluntly honest with her, but I couldn’t just rip the band-aid, so instead I asked, “Well, what do you think?” followed by several other questions, including, “How does it make you feel that they don’t believe?” and “Why do you think they don’t believe?”
At any point, I could have just told her the truth, but there was this nagging little voice in the back of my head that kept telling me that she had to come to the truth herself, so I just kept asking questions based on her responses, and eventually, she went off to play.
Later, I found myself puttering in the kitchen and mulling over whether or not I had handled the situation correctly. I wondered if was leading her on when she clearly wanted the truth or if I was setting her up to be teased by not telling her the truth. Why couldn’t I just give her an honest an honest answer? A few days later, one of the parenting resources I follow online actually specifically suggested asking the same questions I had asked, which made me feel a little bit better, but at the moment, I was truly doubting myself.
Then my daughter came into the kitchen and asked me a question, “Mommy, is it still okay to believe in Santa at my age?”
I responded with an emphatic, “Of course!”
Because what I heard in that question was that she knows. She knows that Santa isn’t real, but at least for one more year, she still wants to believe in the magic. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. She is at an age where the world is confusing, challenging, and ever-changing, but holding onto the magic means holding onto the belief that things can feel simple and certain again, if only for a little while. And maybe I had been a little afraid, that in revealing the truth about Santa I would somehow stifle her imagination and wonder. Reality felt too harsh and hard.
As Church so eloquently put it, “How dreary would the world be if there were no Santa Claus …. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.”
I’m sure this is the last Christmas she’ll “believe,” but I’m not going to take that last little spark of faith away from her. Instead, I’ll listen, and I’ll ask questions, and when she’s really certain of the truth, I’ll make sure knows the real secret: that she has the power to make Christmas magical for others. The Santa does exist in the joy and wonder we bring to others.