Monday, December 24, 2012

Yes, Virginia,...

     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.
                               115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Have you noticed a lot of people seem to get their noses
out of joint about Santa these days? Maybe it's just on the Internet, where we all feel compelled to give our unvarnished opinion as firmly as possible, but it seems like there's a cloud of disapproval over the jolly old elf. There are folks who don't like Santa elbowing infant Jesus out of the picture. There are folks who dislike Santa's tie-in to the commercial feeding frenzy. But most of the comments I've seen are from virtuous citizens who are shocked and appalled that we are LYING to CHILDREN. Won't someone think of the children?

As someone who makes a living by writing down lies and convincing others to buy them, this doesn't particularly bother me. I'm a great proponent of myths, fables, fairy tales and fiction. I've taught my kids that they should never let the truth interfere with a good story. There are many things that ought to be fixed in our society today, but an excess of fancy is not one of them.

Besides, I believe in good Saint Nick, and I'm, shall we say, considerably older than eight. When I was ten or eleven or so, my mother sat me down and had a serious talk with me. She explained that Santa was the spirit of loving and giving, and as such, could never die. The details of how that love and generosity made their way into the world were not the important part.

So how about you, Reds? What have you taught your kids or grandkids - and what did you believe when you were a little girl? What's your take on Father Christmas and his fellow travelers -  fairies and angels, ghosts and golems?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm with you, Julia! I say, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story--or elf!" People who won't let their kids believe in Santa are just big spoilsports, in my opinion. My parents never had the "the talk" with me. They knew by the time I was about seven that I knew they were Santa, but everyone enjoyed the tradition too much to give it up.

We still have Santa at our house--only now my daughter does my stocking. I track Santa on NORAD on Christmas Eve.  Why take a little magic away from children, or grown-ups, when there is so much sadness in the world?

JULIA:   Deb, as an Air Force and Army kid, I used to listen to the hourly updates on Santa's flight on the Armed Forced Radio Service. Now, like you, the kids and I follow along online.

RHYS BOWEN: I'm another who has never stopped believing. We have one daughter who told her kids from day one that there was no Santa, and another daughter whose kids still half believe at ten (she's also the one who has her daughters put out their shoes on the night of the full moon and the moon fairy leaves a treat). The plan is always to keep these two families apart at Christmas time.

I think any ounce of innocence or magic has to encouraged in this commercial world where the media is full of violence and tragedy.

HANK PHILLIPI RYAN: This is the strangest thing. Reading your question, I asked myself--did I ever truly believe in Santa?  A person in a red suit who came down the chimney,etc?   And I don't remember. I don't remember. Oh. Did I just get old?

I DO remember, at some point, thinking "that's pret-ty unlikely." Don't get me wrong. Omens? Yes. ESP? Yes. Alien life on other planets? Possible.

JULIA: And thus, an investigative reporter was born.

HANK: I believe in secret gifts, and secret good deeds, and anonymous charity and outrageous tips for the holiday season.  But, did I ever believe in Santa? Let me think about that.

HALLIE EPHRON: I don't remember ever believing in Santa Claus, either. I remember thinking Santa was like the Wizard of Oz, a character in a story. Which was wonderful enough. I just asked my kids and they don't remember believing in SC either, though my younger remembers being terrified of him (she had a very bad feeling about the Easter Bunny, too.)

For me Christmas wasn't about religion or Santa Claus, it was about gifts and traditions passed down. And of course, food. Christmas morning: buttery scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, and Wolferman's jams... growing up, it was the ONLY morning my mother ever cooked and the only breakfast we all sat down to together.

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh yeah, I believed in Santa. But when my sister (who is eleven months older than me) asked my parents how come the poor kids didn't get as much stuff as we did for Christmas, they sat us both down and told us the truth. I was shocked, I tell you, shocked. The curtain yanked away from the wizard at the age of seven.

But after that it was kind of fun to help spin the story for my two younger siblings. We made up a tradition called an "elf tree", which involved elves leaving a big branch decorated with ribbons and little presents on the front porch on Christmas eve. The whole family is still very attached to stuffing stockings with good loot--not too heavy on the tangerines and nuts, thank you very much:). Here's a joke I played on my family the year after someone complained that my stocking seemed to have more in it than theirs...

  (Bobbie is Lucy/Roberta's family nickname)

JULIA:  I'm sure they were very pleased to see what Santa had brought them, Lucy!

I'm going to leave the final word to my favorite author, Lois McMaster Bujold. From her book, MIRROR DANCE:

     “It’s like trying to give a Winterfair gift to Father Frost himself."
     “Yes, I’ve been puzzling over that one.”
     “Sometimes you can’t give back. You just have to give on. Did you, ah … sign those credit chits to the clones?”
     “Sort of. Actually, I signed them ’Father Frost.’ ” Mark cleared his throat. “That’s the purpose of Winterfair, I think. To teach you how to … give on. Being Father Frost is the end-game, isn’t it?"

     "I think so.”
     “I’m getting it figured out,” Mark nodded in determination.
 How about you, dear readers? Will you be leaving milk and cookies out tonight?


  1. Happy Christmas Eve to you all.

    Oh yes, I believed in Santa. I am the oldest of four girls and I HAD to believe. Even after I learned that my parents ate the cookies and drank the milk I had to keep the mystique going for my sisters. It was fun to believe. Even after I had nieces (there are no boys in my family even down to the grand nieces) I was the one to wake the little ones up to see if Santa had come. I loved it. I miss all that now that the girls are living all over the globe.

    And I miss the feeling of going to bed really early on Christmas Eve with the anticipation of Santa's visit.

    A child's wonder is a beautiful thing.

    Happy Holidays!

  2. I believe!!
    Donald Davis tells a wonderful story of how and why he still believes in Santa -- and does it so well that little ones in the audience never consider not believing . . .
    I once taped the local news guys interviewing passengers coming off a flight from Minneapolis and reporting seeing a sleigh in the sky. I played it for my great-nephew to give him ammunition against the nay-sayers and one more year of believing.

  3. Merry Christmas to everyone . . . may you and your loved ones experience all the blessings and joys of the season . . .

    “Santa was the spirit of loving and giving . . . .” I certainly can’t argue with that --- and it is exactly that belief that we perpetrate around our home. Here Christmas is a mix . . . Christmas Eve candlelight service . . . angel tree shopping for those in need . . . Toys For Tots . . . stockings and cookies for the “jolly old elf” . . . the magic key for Santa [no coming down the chimney here --- we leave a magic key for him!]

    And the books . . . “The Story of Christmas” never gets old, but neither does “The Polar Express.” I cheer when the Post Office dumps all those Santa letters on the judge’s bench, and I know Susan’s going to get that house, but it doesn’t diminish the joy of watching “Miracle on 34th Street.” I don’t remember ever being sat down and told the “truth” about Santa, and the jolly man in red still visits each year.

    I simply cannot come up with a single good reason for taking the joy of believing away from the children and so around here . . . well, we believe.

  4. One year, when I was nine or ten, I was helping my mother in the kitchen just before Easter. I opened the oven door to put a pan in there, and found the Easter candy!

    I remember crying and crying!

    I loved "believing" -- in fairies and Santa.

    And I am loving the chance to see Christmas through the eyes of my children and grandchildren.

    Today my 40 year old daughter is the "head angel" at St. Columba's in Washington, DC and my 4 1/2 year old granddaughter is an angel at St. Thomas in New Haven, CT.

    Happy Holidays to all!

  5. I stopped believing in Santa the year my mom and my Aunt Lou locked themselves in the bathroom to put together go-carts they'd ordered for my brother and cousin. The go-carts arrived on Christmas Eve, in a box--unassembled. Surprise! Of course, my dad and uncle were working so it was up to the moms to save Christmas. I must have been about 5 or 6. We knocked on the door a hundred times, and they told us to go away because they were dyeing their hair! When they finally came out, they said the hair dye "didn't work" and Santa had delivered the go-carts to the bathroom because we didn't have a fireplace.

    That killed Santa for me, but it's one of my favorite crazy family stories. Of which there are many!

  6. Yes, of course I leave out cookies and milk! (But the cookies have to be something I like:-))

  7. So, Ramona, what I want to know is how many bathrooms did you have?

  8. Ramona, that's such a fabulous story! xo

  9. The same little friend who told me I was getting a bike for Christmas after seeing my brother riding a pink & white Schwinn up the back way to our house also told me there was no Santa. My parents were dressing to go out for dinner and I sat on their bed, which I was allowed to do to watch the final touches in those more formal days, and said "I want to know something and I want the truth. Marie says there is no Santa. She's wrong, isn't she?" And so my dad sat on the edge of the bed, and told me about the spirit of Santa.

    I'm kinda glad Marie moved away. Who knows what other surprises she'd have ruined over the years!

  10. And I'm with Hallie -- great story, but I keep picturing little kids who really needed that bathroom!

  11. I remember a little girl in my class telling me there was no Santa. But I was afraid not to believe in Santa. I wanted those gifts to keep on coming.

  12. One bathroom! But we lived next door to my aunt, and another aunt lived next door to that one, so we had all the facilities we needed. I remember it as very exciting, especially sprawling on the floor with my cousins trying to peek under the door.

    Who needs to make up Santa when you have a wacky family? And I know I'm not the only one who had a mom who suffered through last minute assembling of toys!

  13. Ramona,

    I can't think of anything that exemplifies the spirit of loving and giving more than two adult women cramming themselves and a couple unassembled go-carts into a bathroom on Christmas Eve (and I love the "hair dye didn't work" story!)

    Leslie - imagine what Marie might have told you about the facts of life if she had stayed in the neighborhood!

  14. Wonderful story. For me, Santa lives in the spirit, but I believe in giving children things to dream on, anyway. We all need that :) Thank you for the hours of pleasure you bring to me. Merry Christmas.

  15. What a fun post this is! and great stories!

    I'm not sure I've ever really thought about this - "did I believe in Santa?" I guess. No, maybe not - at least not after reading how Hank put it. For one thing we lived in an apartment and there was no chimney . . .

    And I remember one time standing in line forever to sit on his knee so I could tell him what I wanted for Christmas. And screaming like a banshee. I did not want to sit on that man's knee - no way. Pffftt!

    Happiest of Holidays to you all!

  16. We love Santa in our house. He always comes. Sometimes he doesn't bring much. Sometimes he brings too much. Once in a while he takes things away, like pain or sadness or brings gifts that cannot be wrapped, like happiness or friends. Those are the best.

  17. Leslie, Laughing at your description: watching your parents were dressing to go out for dinner and I sat on their bed...

    My kids used to call that "dressing Ken and Barbie" - they'd thumbs-up and thumbs-down our wardrobe choices.

  18. My mom had a poem on her bulletin board, that I cannot remember how exactly it goes, and she lost it in her move from one house to another. It something like this;

    There are those that desist, and say I must not exist,
    I, this merry old Santa
    (whole paragraph I can't remember that references Rome to Atlanta)

    well, they demand, just how do you do it, then?
    Easy, say I, with a twinkling eye,
    I first fill the hearts of men.

    I wish I still had it. I just thought it was so neat.
    There will always be Santa in my house!!

  19. First of all, Santa has NO trouble getting into apartments even though there's no chimney. I ought to know, as I have lived in apartments for almost my entire life! So if you live in an apatrment and your kids are worried about how Santa will get in, just tell them that he has a magical way to open the door to your apartment. I am certain that he will be visiting ME (I've been good), and my condo does not have a fireplace.

    When I was in second grade I was too excited to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. Then, suddenly, my bedroom lit up! I KNEW it was the light from Rudolph's nose, and that I'd better hurry up and fall asleep so Santa could do his job. I must have fallen asleep right away, because the next morning we had gifts and the cookies and milk for Santa were gone, and there were gnawed remnants of carrots for the reindeer on the plate. Santa, as usual, left us a Thank You note for the goodies. (He has wonderful manners, even when he's in a hurry to travel all over the world.)

    When I used to go visit him at Sears with my dad, he would even call me by name if he was walking through the store on his way back from a break while I was on my way to see him. He knew my dad's name, too. (I suppose the fact that Dad worked at Sears could have had something to do with it:-)

    When I was older, I helped my parents to set out the gifts from Santa for my younger siblings (I am the oldest). The first time I did it, I actually cried tears of happiness at being able to help. I was in the third grade. I had heard some older kids in the neighborhood talking about the "truth" about Santa. When I asked my mom about it, she told me about the spirit of giving, making someone else happy, and the origin of Santa Claus.

    Someone here said something earlier today about "the poor kids". We WERE The Poor Kids, which I was aware of, as we lived in low income housing. Even as a youngster, when I first started helping out on Christmas Eve, I was impressed when I realized what a sacrifice my parents made for us for Christmas.

    My parents had a favorite toy "assembly" story: one year Sana brought my brother a fire engine, the kind that a child could sit inside and "drive" all over the apartment. Dad and Mom spent the ENTIRE night attempting to assemble it after we kids went to bed on Christmas Eve. By about 5AM the job seemed to be done...although there were four pieces left over. They finally went to bed. Half an hour later, we kids got up, ran into the living room, saw our gifts from Santa, and rushed to "wake" Mom and Dad to tell them all about it! (By the way,the fire engine worked just fine without those left over parts!)

  20. Time to get the fresh carrots ready to set out for the reindeer... have a good holiday, everyone. xoxo

  21. P.S. -- I have not yet sent out my Christmas cards, so if I have your address you WILL receive a card from me. I often send them out to arrive within the Twelve Days of Christmas!

    Now it is time to decide how many cookies to leave out for Santa and to leave a note inviting him to help himself to cold milk!