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My children and I have our most meaningful conversations in the car. They are teenagers now, and the car is about the only place that I have their undivided attention, and that’s only because I control the radio and ban iPods. I consider it sacred time, perhaps because now that I am not the only driver in my household, the only consistent time that we are always in the same car at the same time is when we are on our way to church on Sunday mornings. Several weeks ago, as I drove, the conversation somehow turned to the subject of truth.



Truth is a pretty big deal in my house, and I have spent a lot of time stressing the importance of honesty with my children, but this particular morning, we ended up with the difference between facts and truth. My daughter, at eighteen, is a college freshman, and has been busy stretching her mind. She has, as we are all prone to do eventually, realized that there is a difference. It’s a difficult concept to grasp. The conversation stuck with me, and the subject came up again for me in a Bible study. Why, one participant queried, didn’t the original editors of scripture smooth out the rough edges that give us two different creation stories and two separate flood stories? Which one of the two is the truth? Wouldn’t it be easier to read if there was only the one account? Why don’t more people raise this question?



There are plenty of people who do raise that question, and I imagine that many of them are still driving to church services on Sunday mornings. They have realized, like my daughter, that there is a difference between truth and fact.



When my children started school, I knew that the time of wide-eyed innocence was coming to a close. They would start to question the stories I told them as their reasoning skills developed. No longer would they believe that the Bay leaf that I placed in the Brunswick stew pot was a batwing and finding a batwing in your soup bowl is lucky. I would have to get mean to get them to eat all of their soup. I had to start trusting that they actually knew how to brush their teeth correctly, because keeping them in good shape for the Tooth Fairy wasn’t going to cut it. And Santa Claus—they were going to lose that absolute trust that Santa would deliver all of their Christmas wishes down our chimney.



My mother loves Christmas. She loves shopping for and wrapping presents for the people in her life. Santa was a particularly influential concept for her. I had not wanted to scare my children into maintaining the pretense of believing in Santa Claus, but like my mother, I didn’t want to give up the joy I received in “playing Santa” for my children. When I was seven, Mother told me that when I stopped believing, Santa would quit coming. At seven that was a terrifying outcome, so I have never admitted that I don’t believe in Santa Claus, and miraculously, he still leaves a present for me under my mother’s Christmas tree.



I periodically considered what I would tell my children, when they confronted me about the familiar Santa Claus myth. I didn’t want to use my mother’s tactic, because I didn’t want to establish a scenario in which my children wouldn’t tell me anything. Honesty is a major virtue in our household, so I couldn’t lie to them, either. So what to tell them? My daughter was eight when she caught me off guard at the breakfast table one morning. The girl who had grown out of the baby I had propped up on St. Nick’s knee in Heidelberg eight years prior, looked at me and casually spoke the words, “Mom, you and Daddy are Santa Claus, right?” I choked on the coffee that was in my mouth. My daughter looked so grown up, at eight years old. She was so proud of herself for figuring out the facts behind the myth. Now, I am sure that she and her lunchroom friends discussed the issue at length over chocolate milk before jump rope, because I discussed the same issue with my friends over white milk before hopscotch. The children put on their detective hats, put their gathered facts together, and discerned “the truth.” Admittedly, I was pretty impressed. I think that all parents are, and if they’re not, they should be.



I still had the problem of answering, though, and I had to tell her the truth. So, I did. Her father and I shopped for, purchased, wrapped, and hid every present that ends up underneath our tree on Christmas morning. Santa Claus, however, is real. I don’t think that until that moment, I realized that I really do believe in Santa Claus.



I told her the different stories I have heard over the years about Santa’s origins, and I explained that in Germany, Santa, in the persona of Saint Nicholas, brings children candy on December 6th and it’s Christkindl, or the Christ Child, who delivers toys on Christmas Eve. I told her the stories of the young Greek man who sold all of his possessions and gave the money to the poor and later became the Bishop of Myra and the Patron Saint of children. I explained that when German and Austrians settlers came to America they brought their traditions of Christkindl, who developed into Kris Kringle. I told her all of the myths and legends that I know, and how they all blended into the contemporary American Santa Claus.



I told her that Santa makes children happy. Then I told her that he makes parents and grandparents happy. Finally I told her that if Santa wasn’t real, he couldn’t do that.



Our contemporary Santa Claus myth is definitely an imaginative and fabulous story, demonstrating the difference between truth and fact. A fat man who slides down chimneys with a sack full of toys? Don’t forget the flying reindeer! As rational human beings, we know that reindeer cannot fly, and that is a fact. We also know that a man cannot fit down a chimney, thin or fat, with or without a sack of toys. It is just not possible. Still, every year, millions of children around the world wake up on Christmas mornings, and ta-da—Toys!



I consider myself a rational adult, although that could (and has been) argued. I believe that Santa Claus is real and the stories are true. My children are teenagers now, so the possibility that my thought process is influenced by the sleep deprivation that plagues parents who stay up all night on Christmas Eve to put together bicycles and doll houses is mute. The story is True, even if the facts discount it.



Even when parents do not have the money for Nintendo, charitable organizations spend most of November and December collecting toys and money to keep the myth alive for as many children as possible. I like to consider Santa the Spirit of Giving, and while he’s around all year long, he’s easiest to spot at Christmastime. That’s when we come face to face with the Salvation Army’s bell ringers and Angel Trees. Television commercials show us U.S. Marines in their annual Toys for Tots campaign. Santa’s myth is told and re-told countless times between Thanksgiving and Christmas. No one is spared the hearing of the story, and people give to one another. People are nice to each other and smile at strangers. Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists are all affected by the story, and it doesn’t matter that they celebrate Christmas or not. People react to the Santa Claus myth, and I can only assume that we react the way we were intended to. Somehow, despite the absurd facts, we got the message. And it’s the truth.

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