Holding on to the idea of Santa

Published 9:49 pm Tuesday, December 20, 2016

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following Short Rows was published on Christmas Day, 2002.

Dear Santa,

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I know I’m a little old for this sort of thing, but thought I’d write and just reminisce a bit. We’ve been friends a long time and I’d hate to see us lose touch. If you’re having trouble remembering, I was the kid with the curly red hair and freckles. (The freckles and the hair have both been gone for years.)

A young parent was talking about you the other day. She thinks her daughter has probably stopped believing in you, but isn’t admitting it. Boy, does that sound familiar! Most of us have been there, first as children, then as parents.

You probably remember when I began questioning the whole business. It was the year I wished for gum boots (or for folks younger than you and me, plain old rubber boots.) Sounds like an odd Christmas request, but not for a kid who spent as much time tromping the swamps and marshes (and, yes, hog lots) as I did.

Anyway, on Christmas morning, I had presents under the tree as always, but no boots. My mother, always quick to sense our every mood, asked what was wrong, and I said I couldn’t find my boots.

She recovered quickly. While my father distracted me, she slipped out, trying to be very discreet. A few minutes later, she suggested that I look again for the boots, which I found behind the old Duo-Therm kerosene stove that heated the living room.

It was then that common sense told me of the collaboration between you and my parents. I’d already suspected it because, while my parents and you always saw to it that we had Christmas presents, we knew from a very early age that a farm family often couldn’t expect some of the more expensive presents that some of our friends got. And some kids, even poorer than us, got close to nothing. That meant one of two things. Either you were a cynical old man who gave more to rich kids than to the rest of us, or that my parents’ income was somehow tied to Christmas. And I never thought of you as cynical, so that left only the latter explanation.

Besides, I noticed at an early age that a good peanut crop usually means more under the tree.

Of course, I never thought of us as poor either, but that’s another whole subject.

But why hold onto the concept of Santa Claus after you’ve figured it out? Well, for me, and I believe generations of kids before and after me, part of the answer is that we like believing in magic, and there’s no more magical (or more properly, mysterious) time than Christmas.

Christmas is, in fact, the celebration of the greatest mystery in history — the idea that God would reveal himself through his son and begin that revelation in a stable on a cold December night as poor parents brought a baby into the world. (There’s that “poor” thing again. I tell you, there’s something special about the love of parents who are struggling to make ends meet and see that their children are properly provided for.)

There are those who believe you have no place in this religious celebration, Santa, but I disagree. It is we, not you, who have commercialized the season so badly. Your story, after all, begins with a poor priest of the 4th century, and the connection between gift giving and Christmas goes back even to the Nativity itself, with the magi who brought gifts to the Christ child.

So Christmas is swathed in mystery, and as children, we hold onto the mystery of Santa for as long as we can.

And there’s another reason we hold onto you a few years after we’ve sorted it out. I think we don’t want to disappoint our parents. Anyone who says Christmas is just for children is nuts. You and I know that parents are just overgrown kids, and they have just as much fun watching their kids’ excitement as the kids have being excited. And children are savvy enough to know that something special happens to them and their parents every Christmas — so they don’t want to spoil it.

But enough philosophizing. Oh, by the way. Remember that “Fanner 50” toy pistol you brought me? Now there was a serious cap pistol! That baby would fire off a roll of caps as fast as you could fan the hammer, and it rarely misfired. The bad guys didn’t stand a chance for a year or so after that. What a Christmas present!

And then, there was . . . Oh, well, you’re probably tired of these ramblings by now, so I’ll just say thanks for all the memories. No matter how tarnished your image, you’re still alright in my book.

Your Pal,