Yes Sarnia, There is a Santa Claus

Without sounding trite there is a truly a meaning to the Christmas holiday.  It is quite simply the belief in a legendary man, eternal, all-knowing, magical and always sporting a beard.  This can be Jesus of Nazareth, but for many the modern Santa Claus has supplanted him in the same way that Jesus himself replaced a myriad of pagan gods who were celebrated on or about December 25th since the dawn of civilization.  This indelible celebration of faith, one that spans the entire breadth of humanity and the depth of human history is lost on me.  My first ever Christmas memory was in fact a moment of skepticism.

I was five years old at the time and I remember confronting my mother with the fact that Santa used the same wrapping paper that we did and had her exact same handwriting style.  To her credit she didn’t try to lie her way out of it and gave me an honest answer.  Thus I have no memories of a time when I believed the Santa Claus myth to be true.  I was attending kindergarten at the time and like any other time when I discovered a new fact I shared it with everyone within earshot.  This of course made me very popular with all the neighbourhood moms.  One in fact called our house and berated my mother.  Her daughter was actually an interesting case.  She had told me that she had discovered her parents stash of presents’ and that she already knew that Santa Claus wasn’t real.  However it turns out that she still believed in both the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy until I came along and told her it was all the same thing.  I don’t understand how a person could believe in only some but not all of these childhood stories but then again from my perspective I don’t understand how a person could believe in any of them.

While Santa was never part of my childhood Christmases there were still a lot of other things I did enjoy.  The presents themselves were very real as were the many sweets within reach of my larcenous little fingers.  My maternal grandfather loved Christmas and he shared with us an extensive collection of kids Christmas music on old 78 records.   We would listen to these over at my cousins’ house while we stayed up late playing charades.  Another holiday tradition was watching Miracle on 34th Street on TV.

Most people interpret this film as a conventional, highly sentimental, feel good holiday story.  In reality the movie was released on May 2nd and was promoted as a light romantic comedy.  The Edmund Gwenn (Kris Kringle) and Natalie Wood (6yr old girl) characters do not even appear in the theatrical trailer.  The sole purpose of the Kris Kringle subplot was to showcase that the young lawyer, by doing something altruistic (quitting a high paying job to represent Mr. Kringle pro bono) was worthy of the affections of the cynical and jaded single mother.  The reason I think this picture has become such a part of the Christmas tradition is that its core, like Christmas itself, it is all about faith.

The pivotal moment in the story is an argument between the two romantic leads over lovely intangibles, an allusion to their budding relationship.  He believes it will work out but her cynicism won’t allow her to consider that possibility.  Today people more remember that the 6yr old girl doesn’t subscribe to the Santa Claus myth but in the confines of the story this isn’t really remarkable because like a typical child she believes in what her mother has told her.  Her narrative arc isn’t about believing in Santa rather it is about believing in the man who has a romantic interest in her mother.  It begins with him acting as her sitter and leads to the final scene when she makes them stop at the house that’s up for sale and reveals her secret desire is to have a father to complete their family.

The Kris Kringle character in Miracle on 34th street like a devout clergyman is a source of strength for others due to his unshakable faith in himself and what he believes.  While I don’t ascribe to a particular faith I understand the appeal of religion having been raised catholic and having endured thirteen years of Catholic school indoctrination.  However, for reasons I cannot explain it didn’t take and my inherent skepticism made my life difficult.  I would often challenge my teachers, my catholic father and by extension all forms of authority.

There was a Christmas time late in my teenage years when I was in a really dark place.  I really wanted a portable cassette player, particularly an expensive Sony Walkman but truth be told I didn’t really deserve much of anything.  Santa came through and to this day it is the greatest gift I have ever received.  For me it wasn’t so much about the material possession it was the show of faith on behalf of my parents, they gave me a second chance and I never looked back.  A few weeks later I fumbled the Walkman while climbing the stairs and broke it which only proved that whatever omnipotent force was out there it didn’t like me.

This year I get to enjoy Christmas with my almost 6-year-old girl.  She’s smart and curious so we’ve had to take extra precautions so that we don’t blow the whole Santa Claus myth through our own carelessness.  If one day she asks a direct question about it I won’t lie to her, and while we may not be religious I do want her to believe in an eternal, all-knowing, magical and sometimes bearded individual.  However I want that person to be me.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Jocelyn Lykken on December 24, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    I read the last paragraph out loud on Christmas Eve, the atheist leaning members of the audience chuckled ;*)


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