“Mrs. Erin? I know you’ll tell me the truth.”
I turned to look at the very concerned face of one of my favorite students, as the hustle and bustle of another Christmas show went on around us. In a couple of hours, we’d be performing our Christmas recital, and the acting students were backstage with their parents, prepping props and costumes and chatting merrily.
But now a stillness fell over the hall as the question fell from her lips like a brick.
“Is Santa Claus real?”
My brother, my co-director and fellow teacher, looked at me expectantly. I saw the challenge in his eyes as he silently nodded. “Go on, Erin. Answer this one.”
All of the students nearby, between the ages of 8 to 14, paused to hear the answer, and even the parents looked up with some curious dread.
And she waited with the promise of honesty that I have always told my students I would give them.
I make magic in the summer. It’s one of the best jobs in the world, and I cherish it. I work at the Georgia Renaissance Festival, and each summer you can find me with my fellow cast members, breaking down the barriers and convincing our patrons that fairies are real, princesses and knights walk the land, and that everyone can believe if they want to.
It’s a wonderful thing to watch the awe on a child’s face as, for the first time, a Fairy lights in front of them, and shows them something magical in the flower or rock or tree nearby. When the Queen appears, and people in khaki shorts and t-shirts suddenly feel compelled to curtsy and bow in respect, it makes me smile. And when I see parents giving in the childlike whims of their kids, and go sword fighting across the meadow, or dance the Maypole cheerfully, every bit of heat and sweat and tired aching feet is worth it.
But there are some adults, and I don’t know why, who cannot stand a child’s belief in magic. They take a personal quest to vanquish each light with a smug grin and a cruel word. “Fairies aren’t real, it’s just costumes!” “Don’t you see, it’s fake?!” “There’s no such thing as magic!” They scold, and roll their eyes as tears well up in their now destroyed victim. “Don’t be such a child.”
Maybe their magic was destroyed early. I hear such terrible horror stories of when they found out the “truth”, and I see it like scars on that kind of person – ugly and twisted and “if I have to hurt, so do you!” I have watched the fallen faces of a group of beautiful children, so delighted a moment before, as one of those injured adults ripped into their magic, determined to “show them the way”.
I do not understand those people.
But then, I never stopped believing in Santa.
Maybe my own path was much kinder than others, but there was never that earth shattered moment of “Truth” that so many other adults speak of. My own belief in Santa simply grew into a deeper understanding, and I wanted to BE him, not destroy him.
My own children are being raised to believe, and to see a world that is more than what can be seen. We dance in the backyard, looking for fairies in the grass. And rejoice over the ladybugs. And look up for shooting stars. We watch the sunrise, and sit in awe at the painted sky. And we mix our faith with reverence and science, with what we know, and what we don’t yet.
We believe in a Universe that is bigger and more amazing that we can possibly imagine.
And we believe in Santa Claus.
I’ll admit, I didn’t know what to say at first. But I knew that this wonderful child was just coming of age, like so many of my kids. The next few years would be awkward and clumsy and smelly and difficult – junior high is not easy. So I told her the truth – that I still believe in Santa Claus. My understanding of him has changed as I’ve gotten older. And in some ways, that makes him all the more real.
I don’t remember what else I told her. But when she walked away, she was smiling. And my brother nodded, letting me know that whatever it is I said, it kept a candle burning.
No one has the right to destroy a child’s magic. Because we do not know the path that child is walking. But a little faith? A little goodness? A little wonder in the world around them? A world that can be so dark, and so scary, and filled with terrible things. The children of this era are not blind; they’re possibly better informed of the world’s events than any other children in history. They see and they hear and they know.
But if those children can hold up a candle of faith to that pressing worldly darkness, and believe against all odds that there is love? And beauty? And Magic?
I will fight to preserve that wonder, that faith that is so much stronger than mine. So that maybe with their light, I can fight the darkness too.
“No Santa Claus? Thank God, he lives and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the hearts of children.”
~Francis P. Church