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I have a confession to make. I’m forty-five years old and I believe in Santa Claus.

When I was a little girl, my parents did the whole Santa thing. I always knew that the man at the mall was just a man dressed up as Santa and not the real McCoy. However, I always loved Christmas and, though I rarely had an opportuntiy to sit on the lap of the man pretending to be Santa, I always appreciated the story behind the man.

The story goes that, way back in history, if a woman wanted to be married, her father had to have money, called “dowry,” to give to her prospective husband. If the father didn’t have anything, his daughter might have to become a prostitute in order to be able to support herself. The story says that there was one such father with three daughters and a wealthy, young Catholic priest in Greece named Nikolaos who, when he learned of the matter, dropped three full purses through the window of the man, one for each maiden. He was also, so the story says, fond of putting money in the shoes of children who left them out for him. When he died, the Catholic church venerated him and he became the patron saint of children and sailors (Don’t ask me how he got to be patron saint of sailors, because I don’t know that story.)

As a child, though I knew that the man at the mall was just playing a role, I never doubted that Santa Claus was real. It filled my heart with wonder to think of an eternal man who gave out gifts once a year to deserving children. I watched in awe the cartoon creations crafted by imaginative adults who wanted to keep that magic alive in the hearts and minds of children all over the world. The stories were often different, but the basic idea was usually the same, depicting Santa as a jolly, old man who dearly loved children.

As I grew older and more of my peers ceased believing, I clung to the idea of Santa Claus like a life line. I loved reading stories of other generous adults who enjoyed taking the magic of Santa Claus to children whose parents couldn’t afford to give them Christmas. I read one captivating story of a man who used to read kids’ letters to Santa when they arrived at the dead letter office of our nation’s postal service and used to put together gifts for those children whose letters seemed genuinely deserving and not just a long list of gimmes.

The older I grew, the more I grew to understand the true meaning behind Christmas and the man people called Santa Claus. Whenever I saw one of those men playing the role, I would take the opportunity to walk by and say, “Hey, there, Kris.” Santa’s other name was supposed to be Kris Kringle, but that is mainly because, in German, the words for “Christ child” were “Krist kinder” and it got mangled, like so many things do. I always liked to think that kids would hear me call Santa by the name “Kris” and ask why I did that, prompting the parents to tell them that Kris was another name for Santa Claus.

Princess and SantaWith time, I was married and had children of my own. When Princess was still very young, probably too young to be able to understand about Santa Claus, I still hung up a stocking and explained to her that there would be goodies in the morning. Being a religious woman, I also told her a rather simplified version of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, but I’m not sure she understood that any better than she did the whole Santa Claus thing. She did understand the excitement of getting presents, of course, but only barely. When she was about a year old, jak had an opportunity to play Santa at the mall and Princess got to be the child on his lap. I was tickled to note that she didn’t flip out when she sat on jak’s lap. I think something inside her must have known that this was really just Daddy in a costume.

Time passed and Princess began to grow more excited around Christmas time, especially when it came to setting out a treat for Santa Claus. However, eventually, the day came when she asked about Santa. jak and I did our best to explain to her about what Santa was all about. What she liked best, though, was when we showed her the photograph of her sitting on her Daddy’s lap with him dressed up as Santa. She seemed delighted with the idea that her father was really Santa (and that her mother was the tooth fairy).

8279734185 f281c4e4bc mNow, I’m forty-five years old. My son is seven and a half (roughly) and at that age where belief in Santa Claus is an iffy sort of thing. Since Boy has autism, it’s hard to know if he believes or not. I think he just looks forward to it for the presents. However, I look forward with eagerness to that day when he’s finally able to ask me the question.

“Mommy, so-and-so says that Santa Claus isn’t a real person.”

“Is Santa real?”

I will tell him the same thing I told Princess. He’s as real as you or I, because, regardless of whether or not he’s an actual person of flesh and bones, he represents that wonderful feeling in our hearts that draws us closer to heaven right around Christmas time. He represents that desire to love and serve our fellow beings, regardless of who they are or what choices they may or may not have made in their lives. He is that quality we strive to cultivate throughout the year.

So, yes, I believe in Santa Claus. Regardless of how old we are, isn’t there something in all of us that still believes?

Question Time: Do you believe in Santa Claus? If not, what made you stop believing?