In December last year I caught a nasty virus that rendered me completely mute for weeks, unable to squeak out a sound.
I carried a pad of paper with me everywhere, scrawling out requests and answers and the occasional wry comment until one day a week before Christmas my almost 8-year-old son came home with the worst playground news ever and the innocence-busting moment parents dread: Is there a Santa?
Not since the flu vaccine have I been so grateful for a virus, pointing to my throat, the universal sign for “I can’t talk.” I wrote something on my pad about “Santa spirit=Love=We give gifts,” which is exactly as inadequate as it sounds.
After I got over the impulse to be That Parent who goes crazy on the playground truth-teller, I sat down at my computer to write my answer. The time allowed provided thinking space that an immediate answer wouldn’t have, and here is what I wrote for him:
It’s driving me crazy that I can’t talk on this day, when you’re asking me a very important question. Is Santa Claus a real person, you asked. It’s a bit of a story.
St. Nicholas was a man who lived a few hundred years after Jesus (around the year 300) and gave a lot of money away to people who were poor, especially to children. But St. Nicholas didn’t want a lot of attention, so he would give gifts in secret ways. One time, he sent a bag of gold down someone’s chimney—that’s why people say Santa comes down the chimney even now, 1,700 years later.
St. Nicholas was so special, he has his own day when people celebrate him, December 6. Because Christmas is in December too, a lot of people started smushing Christmas and St. Nicholas Day together, using Jesus’s birthday party as a time to give gifts to each other, and to remember to give to people who don’t have as much as we do.
Nicholas, who is also called Santa Claus, showed that all gifts really do is show that we’re thinking about each other, with love.
We’re lucky to live in a city that has people of so many different religions, and people who are looking to be kind to others, and make life better, either in the name of God or in the name of goodness. And we’re lucky to have Santa Claus as a person who represents that kindness, generosity, joy, and surprise, to others.
Back to your question, “Is Santa Claus a real person?” Daddy and I choose your Christmas presents, things we know will bring you joy to put the best Truman into the world, just like St. Nicholas did for people he gave gifts to 1,700 years ago. With those gifts, you can be the next person, the best you, to fill in for St. Nicholas someday, to do his job on Christmas Eve, just like Daddy and I do now, so more people will know kindness and then can be kind to each other.
Remember how in math we said that infinity isn’t a number, it’s an idea? It still exists and it’s still real. That’s Santa. Do you think you can help me and Daddy bring the idea of Santa to life this Christmas?
We all, adults too, will use this season to focus on being “nice” and give presents. And move away from being “naughty” and remember to apologize and forgive. It’s how we should live our whole lives, and December is a good time to remember it.
There is real magic in the world, and people who walk around saying “There’s no such thing as Santa,” to sound smart, or because they heard an older brother say it, are missing the point entirely. They might not understand yet that even though Santa is not one person, we all become him on one night when we are kind to each other. That is magic.
So now you know that the real secret about Christmas is more than just that “Santa isn’t one person.” It’s that the things you can’t touch—love, joy, peace—are the most real things in the world and that we all get a chance to show that like Santa.
Mary Beth Alright is a food expert, an attorney and a writer for National Geographic’s The Plate. She is a frequent contributor online and on-air at WTOP. This article was originally published in the Independent Journal Review. It was republished with permission.
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