by Stephen A. Nelson
You May Say There’s No Such Thing as Santa, but…
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I understood as a child. But whenI became a man, I put away these childish things.
Call me skeptical if you like. But even as a young child I couldn’t understand how Father Christmas (that would be “Santa Claus” to most of you) could be in two places at once. This was particularly disturbing to a true believer such as I.
Every year at Christmastide, I would join the faithful in the annual pilgrimage to see the Old Man with the white beard and god-like powers. But I was confused: as soon as I left Father Christmas in one shop, I would encounter another, different Santa in the next shop.
Mum and Dad explained – as all good parents should – that I needn’t be upset. These jolly old men in red were helping the real Father Christmas while he was busy getting ready for Christmas Eve.
I accepted this – and it did not for one minute diminish my absolute faith in Father Christmas. It did not dim the awe and reverence that I felt when I approached the king of Christmas on his throne.
Nor did it stop us in our Christmas rituals: every Christmas Eve, my brother and sisters left milk and cookies for Santa and his reindeer. And every year, he left a note thanking us.
I never saw the real Father Christmas.
I didn’t need to.
I believed in him and he never let me down. He knew much more than whether we’d been bad or good. He knew who we were and where we were. He was even able to find us when we moved to a new city.
For us, this was the kind of miracle that only Father Christmas could do.
When I first came to Canada, I learned a lot of new things about Father Christmas. I learned that he was known by many names – Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, Père Noël– and that he answered to all of them. I learned that he knew what we wanted even before we asked. He knew even if we never had the chance to tell him.
But the most important lesson – which I’ve never forgotten – I learned when I was about 10 years old.
A few weeks before Christmas, my Grade 5/6 class was given an assignment: We read a letter to a newspaper editor written by a nine-year-old boy.
The boy said he knew there was no such thing as Santa Claus. He knew and it was really his parents who left gifts in his stocking on Christmas Eve. The trouble was that his younger, less mature brother still believed in this silly idea of Santa.
So, the elder brother asked the newspaper editor, should he tell his younger brother that there’s no such thing as Santa?
Our teacher sent us into discussion groups to come up with an answer. For me, the future of the universe hung in the balance. Why would anyone tell anyone else that there’s no such thing as Santa?! It seemed the older brother just wanted to spoil things for the younger brother just because he didn’t believe any more.
So I asked my teacher the all-important question: “Before we decide if he should tell his little brother there’s no Santa Claus, don’t you think we should decide whether or not there is a Santa Claus?”
Mr. Carter was a good teacher who had the Wisdom of Solomon as well as the Patience of Job. He didn’t dismiss me or say my question was a silly one. Instead, he said, “That’s a good point. Maybe you should bring it up in your group.”
So while the rest of the class debated the fate of the two brothers, our group discussed the nature of the universe.
I argued fervently. Of course, I was ridiculed for even suggesting that Santa might really exist.
“Santa is really your parents,” they argued. “Everyone knows there’s no such thing as Santa!”
But if everyone knows, why didn’t the younger brother know? Why didn’t I know?
What the argument came down to was that no one had ever seen Santa Claus, therefore he didn’t exist. And even if he did exist, it was impossible for one man to travel over the whole world in one night.
My friends were products of our time.
They couldn’t believe what they couldn’t see. Yet they believed in the electrons and protons and neutrons we’d learned about in science class that year. They believed in people they’d never met, only heard about; people like Copernicus and Galileo; Michael Faraday and Albert Einstein.
They couldn’t believe in the impossible. Yet that very summer we had seen NASA put two men on the moon and bring them back – a 500,000 mile journey through space where even a small mistake could have doomed the Apollo astronauts to drift forever in outer space. A decade earlier, such a feat was “impossible.” Pure science fiction. But now it had happened.
My group never did get around to deciding how the newspaper editor should answer the elder brother’s question.
But that Christmas I learned about another, more famous letter to a newspaper editor dealing with skeptics and junior atheists who questioned the existence of Sinter Klaas.
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
I may have been living in the Space Age, the Age of Science, but I could relate to eight-year-old Virginia’s question.
And even now, in the Information Age, I can relate to the truthful reply by New York Sun editor Francis Church:
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical world, they do not believe unless they see. The think nothing can be which is not comprehended by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s are little…
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…
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…
Editor Francis Church was the son of a Baptist minister. But he was also former war correspondent; he had seen what a lack of faith and hope could do to a society.
At this time of year, I think of my friends wonder what they did with their fervent unbelief. I wonder what they told their children and grandchildren about Saint Nick. I wonder if they still think that Saint Nicholas is a humbug.
I wonder if they discovered for themselves the three stages of faith: i) You believe in Santa Claus ii) You don’t believe in Santa Claus iii) You believe in Santa Claus because you’ve become Santa Claus.
Perhaps, this year they’ll find the Spirit of Christmas as they hear the familiar story of someone else who came at Christmas: Someone else who is also known by many names; someone who knows them by their names.
A while ago, as one friend reminded me that, “Faith is the evidence of things unseen; the substance of things hope for.”
But the impossible Spirit of Santa isn’t completely invisible… you can see it in the eyes of the children.
Stephen A. Nelson is our guest writer and writes from the heart and gives us his take on the universal phenomena – Santa! Stephen is a highly spirited journalist with a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Lutheran Theological Seminary at the University of Saskatchewan. In his spare time, he plays old rock ‘n’ roll at the local jam nights, sings in church, and enjoys his Jasper mountain paradise. Write Stephen Nelson at http://ca.linkedin.com/in/stephenanelson or firstname.lastname@example.org
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