The truth about Santa
If you and your children were on the Sonoma Plaza Friday evening, to share in the annual arrival of Santa on the antique fire truck with which he makes his official appearance, you may have been startled or even dismayed at his sudden departure.
You may also have noticed that, while he was there, Santa held a hand uncomfortably to his snow-white beard, and that he appeared, on close inspection, to be in pain.
He was, and that demands an explanation.
Shortly after the fire truck delivered Santa to the Plaza, a young boy – by Santa’s own estimate somewhere between 9 and 11 years old – raced up to the fire truck, grabbed Santa’s beard in an obvious attempt to pull it off and then disappeared into the crowd.
We can well imagine how this prank was born, in the budding cynicism of young boys smug in the knowledge that Santa Claus is not real.
Such impulses are born in that no man’s land between discovery of the myth, and the much later discovery of the magic behind the myth.
There may not be a parent alive in this nation who has not been asked by a child, “Is Santa Clause real?”
It is a stygian question, sometimes triggering panic, often initiating obfuscation, dissimulation or outright lies. Has anyone ever said to a child when confronted with that age-defining query, “No, of course not, we made it all up.”
Most of us don’t say that, refuse to say it, perhaps never say it, because we can’t bring ourselves to define the world as a place where magic and mystery cannot exist. There are now millions of people in the world, some of them chronologically grown up, who believe that Hogwarts is a real place where wizards practice real magic. Is that wrong?
We might just as well ask if Francis Pharcellus Church was wrong when, in 1897, he wrote back to Virginia O’Hanlon in the New York Sun the most quoted answer to that question ever published.
“Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus,” Church famously wrote. “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”
The young boy who snatched Santa’s beard had probably never heard of Virginia O’Hanlon and Francis Church, and if he had he would probably have been out of range of the message. That’s OK.
What’s not OK is the real damage he caused on Friday night and we hope someone who knows him will tell him that the elastic cord keeping Santa’s beard in place was stretched across Santa’s open eye before it snapped, that the eye was hurt and the beard came loose, and Santa tried valiantly to hold it in place while blinking past the pain.
In the end, he had to make a hurried departure, thus depriving a whole bunch of children, and their parents, of the right to draw their own conclusions about the reality, and the magic, of Santa.