This year is, from everything I can tell, the last year that my daughter is going to believe in Santa Claus. She’s actually kind of a standard deviation or two away from the norm, because I think most kids by 5th grade have figured out the Santa Claus myth. I asked a friend of mine who has two daughters – one a year older and one a year younger than mine – about the status of Santa in his family. While Santa still makes a trip to their house, both of his girls understand that there’s not actually a reindeer-pulled sleigh containing toys for all the good children in the world. I could really see my daughter trying hard to maintain her belief this year. She told me that she heard a boy at lunch say “everybody knows that Santa is your parents” but she just doubled down on her belief saying to herself that she believed and KNEW he was a real person. I think deep down she knows, but doesn’t want to admit it. I can hardly blame her.
By this time next year, I’m pretty sure that Santa as a real person will be history for her. In many ways, I think the single biggest contributor to her continued belief in Santa has been the fact that she has no older siblings to ruin it. I don’t remember exactly how it went when I was growing up, but I’m pretty sure my younger siblings figured it out a lot earlier than I did. Regardless of what has fed her continued belief, it was amazing to watch it this year, knowing that it is reaching the end of its life. I know that when she finally figures it out, she’ll cry. A tiny part of me feels like a shitty parent for perpetuating it for so long, but I think the gift of magic and anticipation every Christmas will balance out any therapy that might be needed.
In any event, I got to thinking about what I wanted to say to Anna when she finds out, so I thought I’d write it here.
By now, you’ve figured out the thing that all kids eventually figure out. While Santa may be in every mall in America, there is no singular Santa Claus that lives at the North Pole who delivers gifts on Christmas Eve to all the world’s good little girls and boys. There once was a man named Saint Nicholas, who is the patron saint of children (among other things) and he frequently gave secret gifts, but there’s no flying reindeer, no elves. Parents around the world tell their kids this little white lie. Still, finding out that there is no Santa is kind of like a punch in the gut, right? I mean, after all, your mom and I have been telling you your whole life that there’s a Santa. Why would we lie to you?
Well, as you might imagine, it’s a lot more complicated than that. And simpler. It all boils down to one thing: you are your father’s daughter.
I always write online that you must be Fox Mulder’s daughter because you want to believe so badly. I say it because I think it’s a funny joke, but as is the case with most things we actually get around to saying, there’s a grain of truth in that joke. You may not really be Fox Mulder’s daughter, but you kind of are, because your old dad was Fox Mulder way before there was a Fox Mulder. I remember reading books about ghosts and Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster in elementary school, wanting so badly to believe in them. A part of me still does, even though I know that they are likely not real. As far as the Santa thing goes, you’re a chip off the old block because I believed until I was about your age, only to have the myth shattered by a friend at school in either 5th or 6th grade. I’ve told you about how one Christmas I woke up at my grandma’s house at midnight and immediately went to the window, fully expecting to see Santa’s sleigh in the sky. That’s how strong my own belief in Santa was. After I found out the truth, I went to great lengths to shelter my brother and sister from the truth. I always hated it when movies or TV shows talked about how Santa wasn’t real, because I wanted to preserve the myth and magic for them.
But with the Santa myth busted, I really never lost my desire to believe in things. I still want to believe in things like time travel, UFOs, Mothman, and cold fusion. I think the revelation that the famous surgeon’s photo of the Loch Ness Monster was a fake hurt worse than finding out Santa Claus was not real and I was 22 years old when that was revealed to be a hoax! A lot of people would argue that a man so steeped in science shouldn’t believe in these kinds of things. And I suppose that they are right, but only up to a point. Of course, it seems ridiculous to believe that a dinosaur is living in a Scottish lake, no less ridiculous than it is to believe in a 1400 year old man living at the North Pole with his team of flying reindeer. But it is magical to think about, right? Wouldn’t it be amazing if it were real? Wouldn’t it be downright awesome if there were aliens from other worlds or if we could get unlimited clean energy from fusing hydrogen atoms together at room temperature without all that pesky radioactivity?
This is where magic comes in – a word that is unfairly maligned in my book. Magic, to most people, is all about trickery and getting you to look somewhere else while they fool you. I would argue that magic is all around us, even in the realm of science. To me, iPods are magic. If you went back in time and showed my 15 year-old self an iPod and told me that I could carry 10,000 songs on this little device, it would be indistinguishable from magic to me. Cars are pretty magical too. The fact that I can post this letter on the Internet and it could potentially be read by millions of people is magic as well. Of course, we all know how iPods and cars and the Internet work – at least to the point that we can say that there’s a scientific explanation for how these things work. But that, to me, misses the point. The fact that I can have my pick of 10,000 songs to listen to on my walk to work and that they are all contained on something smaller than a pack of cigarettes will never stop being amazing to me. EVER. And that’s what I mean about things being magical.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day grind and forget that there really is magic everywhere. Even though Santa doesn’t really exist, that doesn’t mean that your belief in magic has to die. If anything, I’ve witnessed the magic in the myth. Every year, a little girl has come to me with butterflies in her stomach at 4 in the afternoon because she can’t wait for Santa. It’s made every Christmas amazing for me. That’s the part of you I want you to hold on to, because even when you’re 40 years old and have kids of your own, there will still be a little girl in you that remembers believing in Santa. I know this because there’s still a little boy in me that is believes with all his heart that there are fantastic things that we just don’t know about – like UFOs and Jersey Devils and Loch Ness Monsters. If there’s any one thing I’ve learned in 2012, it’s that we need to take good care of those little kids inside of us, because they just want to be loved and comforted and heard. I promise one will live in you some day, so please take care of her just like I’m learning to take care of mine.
Don’t ever stop believing in magic – I haven’t and neither should you. Don’t let anyone tell you that believing in magic is “unscientific.” There’s a lot of things in science that we can’t explain yet, and even though someday we might be able to, for right now, there’s no difference between them and magic. Magic only dies if you stop believing in it, and that little girl in you wouldn’t want that. Neither would your old dad. I would hope that I’d taught you better than that.