When I was a little girl, I believed in Santa in a more literal sense than any of my classmates. In my excellent child-like logic, Santa was not mysterious at all. My dad was Santa, my dad was real, and therefore Santa was real. My father certainly fit all of the basic prerequisites for the job: He had a big white beard, a slight pot-belly, rosy cheeks, and he spent every weekend out in his shop making toys and furniture for me and my older sister. I had handcrafted bookcases, rubber band guns, and one excessively well-made dollhouse as evidence for my claim. I don’t remember how I worked out the lack-of-elves running around my house issue, but I don’t remember being overly concerned by that detail.
As I gradually transitioned from the wide-eyed child that accepted magic as a matter of fact into a world-weary and sophisticated nine-year-old, I caved to the arguments of my friends and accepted that my Dad was not Santa, and if he wasn’t Santa then the odds were low that Santa was more than an elaborate hoax. I think the nail in Santa’s coffin came when I realized that Santa followed my mother’s political ideology in his toy selection, and not my father’s more kid-friendly political beliefs.
Then I became friends with a couple of goat farmers in Michigan, and got to know their seven-year old son, Ronin. Ronin is an unusually small and cherub-faced 7-year-old who used his small stature, and his unusually adult-like wit, on unsuspecting adults to coerce them into devoting hours and hours playing his favorite games. I was just one of those unsuspecting adults. I was living the life of a quasi-homeless young Soldier and so I found myself sleeping on their couch a few days before Christmas last year. I was headed to spend my Christmas weekend with my own family, but I fell into the cute kid trap and delayed my departure to spend the morning playing video games with Ronin. In passing, as he was gleefully demolishing me at Mario Kart, he mentioned that his favorite remote control car was broken and couldn’t be fixed.
I genuinely enjoy messing with children’s minds, so I decided to convince Ronin that my Dad was Santa Clause. “I bet your toy can be fixed Ronin,” I said slyly, “Santa can fix any toy right?”
“Obviously,” he said rolling his eyes, and clearly wondering why adults ask such painfully silly questions, “but Santa doesn’t fix toys, he only delivers new ones.”
“Really?” I countered mischievously, “I know Santa and I am pretty sure he fixes toys.”
“All adults say they know Santa,” countered the clever little snot, “they almost never do.”
“I do,” I countered with a miraculously strait face, “My Dad works for Santa. He can ask him.”
His little face froze as I could see him trying to find the flaw in this latest bit of information. “Can I see a picture?”
Luckily, my father has developed the habit of dressing in red flannel shirts and growing his beard out around Christmas time, because he loves watching kids stop and inform their parent’s that Santa just passed them on the sidewalk. I pulled up one of the red shirted, rosy-cheeked pictures I had taken of him from the year before. “That’s my dad,” I told him, fighting the insistent smirk that threatened to take over my face.
Ronin let out a long-suffering sigh, “Your dad doesn’t work for Santa. Only elves work for Santa. Your dad is Santa.”
“Maybe,” I shrugged. “If my Dad is Santa, then I bet he can fix your toy.”
“Fine!” He replied, “If your dad can fix my toy, then your dad is Santa.” (I should mention that I had already examined the toy and determined that it was a fairly easy fix).
We shook on it…
Aside from the intrinsic amusement that comes with tricking small and gullible children, I did have a reason for my little prank—Ronin is about the age when Santa (and subsequently a genuine belief in magic) will die, and I wanted to give him a more grown-up version of Santa to hopefully buy Santa a few more years before he met his demise. My dad fixed the toy (see picture above) and even gave him a signed note from Santa to seal the deal.
But here is the funny thing, the more that I think about it, the more that I think that kids actually are smarter than us, and that Santa really does exist. After all, why does magic have to be something that we cannot see? My dad used to spend all of his free time in his workshop, building toys for his kids, and once we grew up, he has started making toys and furniture for the community kids. It is impossible to see the joy on his face when he hands over his toys and gets to witness the unadulterated excitement on these kids faces, and not believe in magic. Isn’t that magic if ever it existed? What besides magic could take an old(er) man, who spends most of his time suffering from a body that just wont cooperate, and give him even a few minutes of pure happiness and pride? What besides magic could bind an entire culture together in an unspoken agreement to create a myth for our children—just to bring them some wonder and excitement in their lives?
I have even started elf training. I am too short and, well, female to become Santa (it makes it hard to grow the long white beard), but my Dad and I have taken to spending hours in the shop building Christmas presents for our loved ones, or turning hand-made ornaments for the tree. I have come to understand the magic I see on his face when he hands his gifts over. There really is no better feeling than giving a toy to a child that you made with your own hands, and watching their face light up.
So, I think that Santa’s magic is real (and by extension Santa), and that it is meant for adults, and not kids. As kids, we figure out that Santa’s toys come from a store, and that their probably is no jolly old elf living at the North Pole, and the magic of Santa seems fake, but we fail to see that the magic is not meant for the kids, but for the adults who get the chance, once a year, to take a break from our relentlessly rational cynicism, and instead make a little space in our lives for imagination and irrational belief. So, as you head into the Christmas season, please don’t forget to take some time to let Santa’s magic work on you, and against all reason, let yourself believe.