Marolt: Finally understanding that Santa is real
I remember when my parents told me the truth about Santa Claus; that he’s real. He’s just not exactly like what you think he is.
They told me that St. Nicholas was once a living, breathing man; an archbishop. He lived a very long time ago and was known for his kindness expressed through generosity in giving gifts. The greatest legend about him concerned a very poor man in his village who had three daughters of marrying age. He could no longer support them and couldn’t afford a dowry for their marriages, so he had reluctantly resigned to give them over to a life of prostitution for their own survival.
Nicholas, when he became aware of the dire situation, crept through the night with three bags of gold and tossed them through the poor man’s window while his household slept. It was found the next morning by the man, who became overjoyed at the surprise gift. He knew what it was for and he knew who had delivered it.
The archbishop also had a soft spot for children. He was devoted to do what he could to see that they were not only fed, clothed and educated but also given the opportunity to play and enjoy the gift of their youthful energy and curiosity.
Upon learning this, I was sad; I think mostly because I felt my parents had not been completely truthful all the years leading up to this confession. I mean, I got the part about the gifts delivered in the night and the special love for children, but that is a far cry from the red suit, the sleigh, flying reindeer and a fat man shimmying down our narrow chimney with a bag of presents.
And still, my parents came up with a good answer. They said the modern legend of Santa is something easy for children to understand. The truth is actually harder to believe for some, and it might even be a little frightening for little kids. But, now that I was older and starting to get a little suspicious about elf-made Legos and other toys with Mattel labels on them, I was ready to understand the actual way Santa works to deliver his presents.
They reminded me that St. Nicholas died a long time ago. The good news was that his spirit lives on to this day. They pointed out the obvious fact that a spirit can’t make toys or deliver them to you through the chimney. But what a spirit can do is enter your heart, and that is what St. Nicholas apparently did to my parents. His spirit filled them with joy for Christmas and inspired them to decorate and bake cookies and listen to old, sentimental seasonal music and, most important to me, give their children special presents.
This was good enough for me. I remember being a little uneasy that first Christmas after the truth was revealed, but when I woke up that special morning and everything unfolded pretty much the way it always had, I was sold. I finally knew the whole truth, and the spirit Santa Clause was just as good as the magical one at the North Pole, and maybe even a little bit better since this version wouldn’t stop coming when I got too old for toys.
I hadn’t thought about this in awhile. I believe in the saints who were mostly martyred for their devotion to God, St. Nicholas being no exception, and who can inspire and intervene on our behalves from beyond this secular world, but I never considered how commonly this might occur or even that the spirit of St. Nicholas ever entered into my heart.
Then I thought about his story, which I briefly abbreviated a little of above. Undoubtedly, it is partly historical and partly legend. But his life must have been exceptionally good for both to survive. Even if the only connection to the real man we have is the image of a jolly fat guy in red suit flying around the world making people happy, he was inspiring enough to become an icon of love and goodwill.
So, that icon, that image, that historical figure, that legend makes its way into billions of people around the world every year at Christmastime. It is not something any one of us created. It is not a memory. It is a real thing that comes from completely outside of us and, in large and small ways, inspires us to be better people, at least once a year. So, yeah, I honestly do believe in Santa Claus.
The rumor that Roger Marolt is part elf is completely fiction … I think. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.