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Is Santa Real? How Do You Answer the Question?
Is Santa Claus Real?
He flies through the air with magic reindeer, slides down chimneys to deliver toys to children who have been good, and somehow knows if you've been naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is the magical, benevolent, ever-present symbol of Christmas. And children all over the world love and believe in this pudgy man with a big white beard and bright red outfit.
But when your child asks the question, "Is Santa real?" what should you say? Here are some thoughts from one mom.
(Image: Visions of Sugarplums available on AllPosters)
My sister never lets me forget I was the one who destroyed her belief in Santa. She was only in kindergarten when I dropped the bomb, taking away the myth of the jolly old elf who delivered presents every Christmas and replacing it with the harsh reality that flying reindeer don't exist. I thought I was sharing a great secret. She thought I was taking away the magic of Christmas.
I was only in second grade at the time and had learned the truth from our older brother. I must not have believed him at first because to prove his point he ushered me out to my grandparents' mobile trailer where my parents had stashed the goodies. And there was the proof - all the toys and gifts we had asked Santa to bring. Eureka! My big brother had obviously stumbled upon a giant secret. Thinking that my sister should also be privy to this discovery, I promptly went to inform her that Santa didn't exist.
I don't remember her reaction to the news, but she says she cried. And 35 years later, she still reminds me of my evil deed and gives me a bad time about destroying her belief in Santa. It's become something of a joke between us, but now that we both have children, I realize just how young she was when I broke the spell, and I feel bad that I was the one who took that magic away from her.
My own son is eight now, and I'm glad he still believes. I've tried to keep the magic going for as long as I can, by sending Santa letters and reminding him to be on his best behavior to stay on Santa's Nice List. This year I might even try showing him real Santa pictures of the jolly old elf in our house. But I imagine that some day soon - either this season or perhaps next - one of his friends will break the news and he'll come to ask us the truth. What will I say?
I've learned from experience that often the best answer to these tricky questions is another question: what do YOU think? Often kids don't want a big long explanation. It reminds me of the joke about a little boy who asked his mom where he came from and she went into a detailed explanation about the birds and the bees. When she finished he said, "But where do I come from? Johnny is from Chicago."
So my first response will be to find out what he thinks. If he's not ready to let go of the magic, I will let him continue to believe and tell him that I, too, believe, and we'll leave it at that. But if, as I suspect, he's too smart for that and realizes all those shopping mall Santas look different and no one could fly around the whole world in one night, then I'll have to tell him the truth.
But when I do, I'll tell him that I still believe in Santa. I believe that the spirit of giving that lives today in the myth of Santa comes to us from the very real spirit of Saint Nicholas, a generous soul who donated his fortune to the poor and spent his life helping those in need, particularly children. His compassion and generosity set a very real example for millions of people who have translated his good deeds into the legend of Santa.
And I believe we are always given gifts in life when we try our best, play well with others, and remember to use our manners. These are qualities Santa always looks for when deciding who goes on the Nice list and who goes on the Naughty list. But we don't need the fear of Santa's list to practice these traits. All we need to know is that these qualities will bring us gifts every day of our life. These gifts may not come in boxes, bags, or bows, but they will come to us in the form of lasting friendship, love, and happiness.
I also believe in the magic of Santa. I believe life is miraculous, magical and wonderful, just like Santa, but only those who are willing to believe in the mystery will be able to see the beauty in a world that is also full of war, hunger, hatred and fear. Just as with a belief in Santa, the magic will disappear as soon as you choose to let it go. Belief in anything takes patience and care. Many people cannot see small miracles that happen around them every day because they are so blinded by the trappings of our fast-paced society.
I believe what Santa gives to children and adults alike is the ability to see life through the eyes of a child. We are reminded that it's important to play and laugh, to let our imagination run wild, and to hope for the impossible. These are things I can believe in.
I hope that when my son realizes Santa is only a symbol for all these good things, he won't be too disappointed and will still want to share the legend of Santa Claus with his kids some day. I think the world would be a much sadder place without the jolly old elf. I only hope my son agrees.
UPDATE: Since I wrote this article in 2008, my son has discovered the truth about Santa Claus. I told him all the things I mentioned above, about how Saint Nicholas was known for his charity and how his generosity inspired millions of people throughout the world to continue his tradition of giving. My son was impressed to know how one man changed the world for the better, and now he's excited to be part of the elite society that guards Santa's secret. He has vowed to keep Santa Claus alive for his little sister as long as possible. In our house, Santa still lives on!
History of Saint Nicholas
The legend of Santa comes from a real man who lived in the 3rd century
The red-suited fellows we see at shopping malls every year may not be the "real Santa," but they do owe their existence to the life of a very real man who lived in the third century.
Saint Nicholas was born around 280 AD in what is now Turkey. His parents were wealthy Christians who died when he was young. Following Jesus' advice to give to the poor, Nicholas gave away his inheritance to the poor. He became the Bishop of Myra while still young and continued to help those in need, particularly children. He was soon known as a protector of children and sailors.
When Saint Nicholas died in 343 AD, the anniversary of his death, December 6, became known as Saint Nicholas Day, a day for celebrating and feasting.
Saint Nicholas and Sinter Klaas
The legend of Saint Nicholas was brought to America by Dutch setttlers. The name Santa Claus evolved from the Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas. The saint became a part of local lore when the founder of the New York Historical Society made St. Nicholas the patron saint of the society and New York City.
St. Nick continued to evolve into today's Santa when Washington Irving published a book on Saint Nicholas Day that contained numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character.
However, it was Clement Clark Moore's poem, "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" (now known as "The Night Before Christmas") that cemented Saint Nicholas' image as "a jolly old elf" with a "little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly." Political cartoonist Thomas Nast helped popularize this image. In 1863 he began drawing a series of cartoons for Harper's Weekly that were based on the character in the poem and in Washington Irving's work. Nash's Santa had a beard, a pipe and fur clothing, and became the basis for the modern Santa Claus. The cartoonist was also the one who invented Mrs. Claus, elves and the North Pole.
By the 1890s, the image of Santa in a red suit and hat was so common that the Salvation Army began dressing men in Santa suits in New York City to solicit donations for Christmas meals for the hungry. Later, other artists such as Norman Rockwell continued to popularize Santa Claus as a bearded fat fellow in a red suit.
Santa is now a common centerpiece of Christmas advertising. Although he still retains some small semblance to the Saint Nicholas of history who gave gifts to the needy, his transformation from an actual religious figure to a mythical secular figure has been otherwise complete.
More Santa history.
In 1897, a young girl named Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to "The New York Sun" questioning whether Santa was real. Journalist Francis Church wrote the response, and his work quickly became one of the most famous editorials ever written. His words were reprinted in the Sun every Christmas until 1949 when the paper went out of business, and they have also been reprinted in newspapers around the world, turned into children's books, made into an Emmy-winning animated children's video, and become the inspiration for the 2004 Ginny Celebrates doll by Vogue.
Below is Virginia's letter and Church's response.
"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus? - Virginia O'Hanlon
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
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 external 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 you 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.
You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
For a more modern response to this question, read Silicon Insider: Is Santa Real?"
Yes, Virginia Book for Kids - Based on the famous editorial
This 32-page large-size picture-book reprints the legendary letter to the editor written by Virginia O'Hanlon and the response printed in the New York Sun in 1897.
Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy - Is it ok to tell your kids about these legends?
Should parents allow their children to believe in Santa?
The Best Book Ever Written About Believing in Santa - In my humble opinion, The Polar Express is that book
This is one of my favorite Christmas books. It tells the story of a boy who visits the North Pole and receives a bell from Santa. When he gets home, he discovers that only those who believe can hear it ring. This is a great story for those who believe Santa is real or want to continue to believe it.
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