...There is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. 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 heart of childhood.
- Francis Pharcellus Church, September 21, 1897, The New York Sun
I remember the Christmas that I decided that Santa Claus wasn't real. I remember it clearly as if it happened just yesterday, yet it was 31 years ago. It was a very, very sad moment, when the brilliance of faith and belief were temporarily snuffed.
I was seven. It was Christmas Eve, 1979. That afternoon, I played over at a neighbor's house. My friend and I created this fun activity where we jumped over the couch in the basement. On my last trip over the couch, instead of landing on my feet, I landed on my chin. And my chin landed on the marble floor.
My parents were called; my chin was inspected. They made the executive decision: to the ER. So my mom, dad, three-month-old baby brother and I piled in the Impala and drove to the ER. I received seven stitches in my chin. My chin hurt. A lot. That evening, I sat in the family room. The multi-colored lights of the Christmas tree cast a magical glow across the rainbow shag carpet. I looked at my Mom. Tears streamed down my face.
"Mommy?" I said.
"Yes, Denise?" she replied.
"Is Santa Claus real?" I asked.
Her calm reply, "I believe in Santa Claus."
"Yes," I persisted, "but is he REAL? Do you and Daddy put the presents under the tree? And in the stockings?"
She looked at me, with crestfallen pain in her eyes. "Yes, we do."
Through hot tears, I choked out, "And what about the Easter Bunny? The Toothfairy?"
She sadly shook her head. "But. I believe, Denise. Faith is believing in things you can't see or touch. I have faith. I believe."
I went to bed, chin and heart throbbing, stitches bulging under wrapped bandages. The next morning, Christmas morning, felt dull. Numb. My heart ached. I remember my dad saying to me, through his own sheen of tears, "You know, Denise, I will always believe. Santa will always live inside my heart." And he invited me to continue believing, too.
That moment, I decided. I believed. And would always, always believe. To this day, I believe. I have a built-in talisman, the scar on my chin, to forever remind me that belief and faith are choices. Ones that I consciously choose every day. Now, in 2010, Abby sits on the precipice of her very own Christmas of 1979. She straddles the innocence of pure, blissful belief and the more arcane equation of faith. I can see the lightening bolts of uncertainty knit themselves into her eyebrows.
And when she asks me, as I know she will, "Mommy, is there a Santa Clause?" I will answer, with conviction,
"Yes, Abby. There IS a Santa Claus. I believe. I believe in Santa, magic and power and an abiding force larger than any one of us. I believe in forgiveness and wonder and love that swells larger than the largest ocean wave. I believe in faith--I choose to believe. I believe in a spot that simultaneously resides in your body, and tethers to a universal symphony and cadence of the human experience. I believe. I believe in Christmas, Santa and the mystic twinkling of Santa's sleigh bells. Santa will always live in my heart, and yours. If you so choose."
And I will invite her. Through my own curtain of tears, I'll invite her to believe.