December 23, 2020
My childhood bedroom was on the 2nd floor overlooking the backyard. I can remember many a Christmas Eve, gazing out my window into the night sky, listening intently for sleigh bells and hoping so hard that I might catch a glimpse of Santa Claus. I really thought I heard those bells one time, far off in the distance! That wishing and longing outlived my belief in Santa; even when I began to doubt his existence, part of me held onto that childhood dream. The belief itself is magical and precious; it feeds the ageless and eternal part of us.
As a parent, I tried to stretch that out as long as possible for our girls. When Taylor reached 4th grade, she pressed us intensely and repeatedly for the “truth” about Santa Claus. You see, her classmates were telling her that Santa wasn’t real, and she was at her wits’ end trying to make sense of it all. Art and I insisted that we still believed, but it wasn’t enough. We talked with our friends across the street who had two young children, and David came up with a plan. On Christmas morning, he called for the girls to come over right away - Santa had been there, and he had proof! The girls were beside themselves with excitement and ran across the street. There on the hearth of their fireplace was a sooty boot print! It was so convincing that the girls were ecstatic, and Taylor's belief was extended for one more year.
The story of 8-year-old Virginia Hanlon is a beautiful illustration of why we go to such lengths to cultivate this Christmas belief in our children (and seek to maintain it at some level ourselves). In 1897, she went to her father for the truth because she, too, was being told by her friends that Santa wasn’t real. Her father was at a loss and directed her to take her question to “the experts” – the editors of the local newspaper. The response she received became a classic inspirational essay –“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!” Sarah Ban Breathnach writes about it in Simple Abundance, saying, “Children of all ages have a deep desire to believe in a great, benevolent, and generous gift giver who rewards the good. Christmas allows the child slumbering in each of our souls the chance to be reborn every year, awakening a sense of joy and wonder that eleven months of doubt, derision, or discouragement can’t snuff out. All that’s required of us is that we believe”… in whatever means the most to us, and in the Love that makes all things possible.
As Frank Church, the newspaper editor, responded, “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……” He adds that if there was no Santa Claus, the world would indeed be a dreary place; that “there would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.” The most real things in this world are those that we cannot see.
Considering all the pain, discord, and violence our eyes and ears do behold in the world around us, it can be hard to believe in the mystical, magical, and invisible. But how dark and hopeless this life can be without belief in the Presence and Power of Love! When our belief is strong enough, the veil is lifted from our eyes and we can behold wonders beyond the senses. We can hear the faint jingle of heaven’s music and see the footprints of God in our midst. Yes, we need to hold fast to hope, faith, wonder and delight. These are the gifts of Christmas that open our hearts to eternal Love, healing Light, and everyday miracles. When we dare to believe, we shall receive.
Elisa J. Juarez