For grown-up and kids, Santa’s true home lies between the manger and the mall — deep in our hearts

Last week, we had one of those “Yes, Virginia” moments. Knew it would happen eventually. Standing in the supermarket aisle, she turns to me and asks, “Is Santa Claus real?”
I wondered if she intentionally phrased the question that way. It wasn’t the standard believe-don’t believe inquiry.
Still, my immediate thought was that this would be the final year of North Pole innocence. It propelled me into retrospection of not just the past 7 years, but of a time 50 or so years ago.
When I was my daughter’s age, it was the mid 1960s. Logical advice from Dr. Spock and Mr. Spock mingled with a thousand other voices. There was a school of thought, well-founded, that deceiving your children about a mythical character and gaining their buy-in could undermine a parent’s credibility and authority in the long run.
This was true for Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and even the poor defenseless Tooth Fairy.
I grew up in a household where Santa Claus was not real — unless he was walking down the middle of our street during a Christmas Eve blizzard, while my Mother was stricken with early labor pains (my sister held off until Jan. 14).
True story, though — one of the Jolly Fat Man’s surrogates was on his way to make good on a promised appearance at one of our neighbors’ homes. It was one of my first opportunities to appreciate how surreal real life can be.
I digress. It’s been a true joy for me as a parent to be a co-conspirator with Santa. You see, I am in touch with him, when necessary. Anytime of the year.
It’s not meant to be a threat. It inspires awe and respect.
The best part of this experience, though, is that it has taught me to believe in Santa Claus.
Santa is part of the joy and wonder of Christmas, and a little bit of him should rest in the heart of each of us.
The willing suspension of disbelief is not the absence of truth, when it comes to Santa. Parents don’t own Santa. He’s not an enforcer.
He’s part of the magic. He helps shape a family’s own traditions. When Santa rolls through our household, there are a couple of cookies, a small cup of eggnog, and a carrot or two for his road crew. Putting this together and arranging it is an important part of Christmas Eve.
We’re hoping that someday she and her family, should she decide to take that path, feel the same unity and warmth brought about through these tiny traditions.
When I think of this, I also cannot emphasize enough the beauty of The Polar Express, the book and/or the film. The ability to hear that bell, long after it has gone silent for everyone else. It’s wonderful for parents and kids, and I’ve always fallen back on it as part of my own Christmas beliefs.
Is Santa Claus real? Put on your taps shoes if you want to tackle that one.
But do I believe in Santa Claus? More and more each year. On that, I can speak with truth from the heart. Santa will always have a special place to dwell year-round, and it should be within us. For me, that will always be a place of warmth, kindness and charity that forever belongs somewhere between the manger and the mall. I will always hear the bell.

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