First things first: I do believe in Santa Claus. I don't know if he's in some other dimension, or is a real saint, or what, but I believe.
Having said that, this entry is about my grandchildren's belief.
My four-year-old darling, Michaela, recently wrote a letter to Santa. She said that she and her little sister thought he was wonderful, and they loved him. She said they had looked and looked for him, but couldn't find him, so they would have to visit him and the North Pole.
Sweet. Very shortly after that, their six-year-old brother, Justin, told them Santa didn't exist.
Micky wrote a new sentence to the end of her letter: "But you're not real, so never mind. I won't be seeing you."
Well, that just about broke my daughter's heart, but what was she going to do?
That week, she and her husband went to Pioneer Place to do a little shopping, and who should spot them but the mall's Santa Claus. "December! Jeff!" he called, waving a red-clad arm. They hadn't realized until then that the store Santa was our dear friend, Steve. (To forestall possible confusion: December is my daughter's name.)
In the course of the conversation, December told Steve what Justin had told the girls, and they formulated a plan.
Yesterday, Jeff and December took all five kids to the mall to see Santa. When he came back from his break, they were all lined up, sitting on the bench at the head of the line. Now, Steve is absolutely the personification of the best Santa you ever dreamed up--no padding needed, snow white beard and hair, endless patience, and a very real love for children. He came striding up, as all the kids in line cheered and called, "Santa! Santa!", and when he turned to see who was first, exclaimed, "Well, hello, Caitlin! Great to see you!" Caitlin, who is eight, gave a start, she was so amazed at his knowing her name, and her jaw dropped. Then Santa turned to Justin, "And Justin! Great to see you, too!"
While he chatted with the other three, Caity and Justin clammered, "How did he know our names? How did he know our names?"
Soon he had them all gathered around him, talking about how good they'd been and how much they'd grown. He asked them if they'd liked the flashlights he'd put in their stockings last year. "Mine got lost inside the wall," Astoria said. "Oh, I remember that," said Steve. "That was a shame, wasn't it?"
One of the others said the flashlights had burned out very quickly. "I know," said Santa. "I felt really badly about that. I really thought they'd last a lot longer than they did."
Then he turned to Justin again, saying (he knew this from a phone call December had made the day before), "Justin, I know you've really been wanting to pull my beard." He stuck his whiskered chin out. "Well, here it is. Give it a pull." Justin did. He gave it a good, hard pull, and when it didn't budge, his jaw dropped again and his eyes opened their widest. That's when the photographer snapped the picture. Justin looks like he's in a total state of shock.
Before they all left, Santa asked if it would be all right if he had a word with Justin, privately. December and Jeff said yes, and they all moved a bit away, as Santa knelt down and said, "Justin, I know you're having a hard time believing in me right now, so this is just between me and you. Don't tell your parents. Don't tell your sisters. When I come fill your stocking on Christmas eve, I'll put a marble in yours." He held his hand out to our wide-eyed boy. "This is what it will look like," Santa said, and centered in that white-gloved palm was a marble. "That way, when you find the marble you'll know I've been there."
When Steve shook hands with December, he transferred the marble to her hand. The minute they got home, she rushed to put it in Justin's stocking, not trusting herself not to forget it
Santa, at our house to visit, shortly before Christmas, also left one of his gloves at our house. He told the children he would do that, and they knew to ask if I found it when they came over on Christmas day.
So what happened after that? Christmas day, they came over to visit. I had draped the glove over one of the fireplace screen doors, and when the kids asked if I'd run across "anything unusual" told them I hadn't, but I'd been pretty busy.
Imagine the excitement when they spotted the glove! They ran to the adults, all gathered in the dining room, exclaiming over it, and then realized our son John is about the same size as Santa-Steve, and promptly made him put the glove on, so they could stroke his hand, to see if it really was Santa's. They were sure they'd remember the texture of it, especially with a large hand inside. They clustered around John, each touching the glove, sometimes two of them at a time stretching towards it, marveling.
"It's his! It really is! Santa left his glove, just like he said he would!"
That was part A. Part B? The kids hadn't been at home that morning to get their stockings. When they got home, the kids all rushed for the fireplace and their stockings, but Justin was especially intense. He grabbed up his stocking and upended it, dumping all the contents. There, in the toe, last thing out, just like Santa said, was the marble.
Justin gasped. "It's here! It's here!"
December craned her neck to look. "Uh, yeah. You got a marble."
"No, you don't understand. You don't understand. I...it's...the marble...Santa's real!"
You'd think that would be enough, wouldn't you? This story actually spans another Christmas, though. December and Jeff took the kids to see Santa-Steve the following year, too. Again, he knew their names, and talked to them about things that had happened during the year.
This time, the kids had each colored a picture for him, and written Thank You on each, signing their names. They gave them to Steve, but did you know store Santas aren't allowed to keep anything the children give them? As they got ready to leave, Steve slipped the pictures into a Christmas coloring book, and gave it to December.
Christmas eve, December took glitter pens and wrote on the back of each picture, in her fanciest handwriting, "You're welcome! Love, Santa," and put each one in the appropriate child's Christmas stocking.
I suspect that someday there'll be a nineteen or twenty-year-old man telling his friends they're mistaken, that he actually met Santa when he was a little boy, and that he has irrefutable proof of his existence.
(From my personal diary, 2003-2004)