Once upon a time, I believed in Santa. I believed he was as real as my Uncle Rufus who lived in Georgia.
I believed Santa lived with elves at the North Pole, made toys 364 days out of the year, kept a record of what every child said or did, drove a flying sleigh pulled by eight reindeer (plus one with a glowing red nose), landed on rooftops where children lived, slid down the chimney with a bulging sack, placed presents under the Christmas tree, nibbled a cookie, sipped milk from a glass, pressed a finger to his nose, zoomed up the chimney into his sleigh and rode off to the next house and the next until every child in the world had the perfect present.
All in one night.
I was a believer from age two until age seven. And then I found out. Santa wasn’t real. The whole thing was a myth. Fiction. I put away that childish faith. Reluctantly.
But real or not, Santa made me happy. Santa kept hope alive. He filled my heart with joy and wonder (and a little fear). He kept an eye on me. He knew where I lived.
Come to think of it, I believed in Jesus too, but he wasn’t as real. I’d never sat on his lap or wrote him a letter. In the Jesus case, I was told to pray, which, I must admit, felt like talking to myself.
But Santa heard me, read my letters, and delivered.
The Santa Claus myth was inspired by an actual, historic person from the fourth century named Saint Nicholas. He was known for his kindness and charity. He gave children gifts.
The legend was embellished by the Dutch (who called him Sinterklaas), brought over to New Amsterdam (New York), memorialized in 1863 by the Harper’s Weekly cartoonist Thomas Nast, whose illustration was inspired by the poem “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” first published anonymously in 1823. In 1931 Coca-Cola introduced a jolly Santa with rosy cheeks, a white beard, and twinkling eyes.
Santa makes a good story. Facts don’t matter. Children happily believe. Adults play along.
Next week is Christmas. The Christmas story is largely myth. Many believe. Some play along. Real or not, Christmas makes people happy. It keeps hope alive. It fills our hearts with joy and wonder.
Apparently, we can’t live on bread alone.