Despite all the naysayers and attempts to prove Santa Claus doesn’t exist, I have proof that he does indeed live and breathe. I see him every day in the mirror, and at this festive time of year I dare say that many of you do too. Santa inhabits all of those who embrace this season of light and love, especially nestling in the hearts and minds of parents, but anyone can be inspired by the jolly old elf.
Trying to prove Santa – aka Pére Noël, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, Ông già Noel and many other names – is not real seems to go back as far as his story does, which means before the man known as St. Nicholas died on December 6, 343 (December 6 is his feast day). Nicholas became known for his gift giving, especially to the poor, and has inspired others ever since to continue his legacy.
There are many stories about how St. Nicholas turned into Santa Claus, but I have always liked the one my Dad used to tell us when we were little. St. Nicholas became famous for his kindness, but the local authorities felt he caused the poor to be restless and want to rebel. Eventually, Nicholas put all of his belongings into a wagon, hitched up two horses, and traveled north out of present-day Turkey and ended up in what is now Holland. Because of his goodness and charity, God granted him immortality to continue his work. He became known as Sinterklaas in Holland where he did good works for many years. He met and married a Dutch woman who worked in a bakery – she would later be known as Mrs. Claus, famous for her delicious cookies. When wars came Santa put his wife in the wagon and again started going north. Somewhere in Norway he traded in the horses and wagon for a sleigh and reindeer. Having acquired magical powers over the years Santa granted them the ability to fly, and they whisked Mrs. Claus and him to the top of the world. There he built a house and workshop and brought in local elves to make toys. That is how St. Nicholas became Santa Claus!
All these years later I can hear my father telling this story to us, but other children in countries all over the world have heard their own stories, but the story that started the modern version of Santa Claus wasn’t even a story – it was a poem by Clement Clarke Moore. He wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas” on Christmas Eve 1822 for his children, and ever since then children who have heard it believe it was written for them as well. The vivid description of “St. Nick” in the poem created an image that has remained collectively in our imaginations.
I have read this poem to my own children many times, and it kindles a spirit inside me to want not to be the father of the poem but Santa himself. The concept of an individual seeking to spread good cheer through inherent generosity is not only admirable but infectious.
St. Nick’s popularity grew after the publication of Moore’s poem, but he became a rock star when an innocent little New York City girl named Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to Francis P. Church, editor of the newspaper The Sun, asking if there really was a Santa Claus because her friends told her there wasn’t but her father said if she saw it in The Sun it would be true.
Church probably never imagined that when he wrote the immortal words “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus” that not only would they be still famous 123 years later but that they would become a juggernaut felt around the world and that still inspires children to believe. Church basically certified St. Nick’s existence not only for children but the adults as well, and Santa and Christmas have never been the same.
Despite the terrible commercialism that exploits Santa – his drinking soda pop to hawking everything else south of the North Pole – the core message is still the same as it was when St. Nicholas gave the first gift back in Turkey so long ago. Giving is not only better than receiving; it is rewarding beyond imagination. That’s why it feels good to put money into the sidewalk Santa’s pot, to write a check for a favorite charity, or to donate clothing to goodwill. The best feeling is giving without any expectation for return, and that has the greatest rewards of all.
Every year when I turn the calendar to December, I feel something tingling along my arms. It wriggles across my shoulders, squiggles past my shirt collar, down my neck, and into my heart. It is more than inspiration and something close to possession. I make my charitable donations and tip those who offer me service throughout the year, and my most happy moments are getting things for my family.
During the month of December whenever I look into a mirror, I do indeed see Santa Claus, and every time I whisper, “Ho, ho, ho!” to remind me that this is as real as it can be. I go to stores to get what are on the lists my family has provided me, then after checking it twice, I try to find things they’re not expecting but I know will put a big smile on their faces on Christmas morning.
All of this gift getting is worth the crushing crowd in the mall and the stores. In the whirlwind of these days before Christmas, there are so many things to do and not enough time to do them, but when I am sitting there watching my family open presents on Christmas morning, everything I have done to get to that moment will be worth it.
So, dear readers, Santa Claus does exist. Really. Truthfully. Look in the mirror and you will see what I mean. One day our will kids see him in the mirror, and then their kids, and so on. When Church wrote, “No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever” he was right more than he could have ever known.