Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, St. Nicholas—the jolly man in red has been a mystery for countless generations.
Is this mythical figure representative of a harmless white lie told to children to make them “be good for goodness sake,” or is there something deeper, even sinister, at work in our culture?
Doubt about this seasonal prevarication is pervasive. A reporter embarked on a journey to seek answers, to liberate minds willing to hear the truth. What he came away with was certainly not what he expected.
December 1st, 2012
My travels took me past the last outpost of ordinary reality to a cold and lonely place. For what seemed like weeks, I trudged through drifting snow, past the last of evergreen trees, across vast stretches of ice and biting wind. As the days blurred one into another, the sun ceased to rise, but shone dimly beneath the southern horizon, only to snuff itself out again, foreshadowing the longest and darkest of nights my soul has ever witnessed.
Why, I asked myself, would anyone choose to live in this desolate place? I plodded forward on numb feet, until at long last I reached a cottage, its roof laden heavily with snow, its windows glazed over with ice.
Through them, the deepest orange, and most welcoming of lights emanated, and when I knocked on a door of fir planks bolted to ornate hand-forged hinges, it immediately swung open.
To my surprise, a solemn, not jolly, bearded face greeted me. “I have been expecting you,” he said as he ushered me into the delightfully warm cottage. I pulled off my hat and gloves and he gave me a large cup of hot tea, which I gratefully accepted. The liquid scalded my lips, but the warmth of the cup thawed my unshaven face and I felt trickles of water and bits of ice run down my jaw.
I reminded myself to preserve my journalistic integrity and thanked the man politely. Getting to business, I pulled a reporter’s notebook from my breast pocket. Embarrassed, I had forgotten my pen and had to ask to borrow one. He produced a pencil, not of the ordinary kind, but a pine stick, about a half an inch in diameter whose center felt like soft metal against my pad. It marked the page well, so I was satisfied.
“That was a long trip,” I said.
“I hope it will prove to be worth your effort,” he replied.
His tone was sincere. Isolation had made him naive, I thought. He seemed to have forgotten that I was a reporter on assignment.
“Shall I call you Mr. Kringle?” I asked, “Are you alone here?”
“There are others,” he said vaguely. “Call me Santa.”
“The heart of my article is designed to explore why we tell our children of your existence, only to propose increasingly preposterous ideas when they’ve outgrown you. One has to wonder, Mr. Kringle, how we can expect them to believe in anything after we perpetrate this hoax. I mean, why would anyone want to participate in this thing called ‘belief’, after being tricked so?”
“What do you mean when you say ‘our children?”
“I mean our society’s children.”
“Perhaps you mean the child that’s inside of you, a child who feels betrayed.”
“If you don’t mind, Mr. Kringle,” I said, “I will ask the questions.”
“Right you are,” he said and for the first time since we met, smiled. His crow’s feet crinkled behind gold-rimmed glassed. “And I will answer them. The reason I exist is for the purpose of belief.”
“So you do exist?”
“Of course. If I didn’t exist, would you be here talking with me?”
“After the journey I’ve been through, I can’t even say what ‘here’ is. But in the real world…” He interrupted with a deep and hearty and, oh-so cliché, “Ho ho ho. In the real world, I can see I haven’t performed my duty very well with you, at least if I am to surmise that you truly think your world is real and mine is not.” I was caught. He seemed to know my thoughts.
“You know what I mean, we’re down in the lower latitudes mucking around in our five senses, and you’re up here with these, ‘others’, trying to throw us off at every turn.”
“Well I’m glad you’re now including yourself rather than this nebulous ‘our children’. We’re getting somewhere, now. But the truth is that my job is about belief. It’s a simple job, but it’s my job.
“Now, I know what you’re going to say”, he continued, “what about this naughty or nice thing? That, indeed, is a construct of control. But parents are to blame for that one. Do I know who’s naughty or nice? Sure. But each of you do too, about yourselves, and that’s what’s important. I love you all the same, and no matter what. Naughty, like the word ‘sin’, means to be without. I don’t want you to be without, but to be with. With my love and all the gifts that I can hope to bring you. And I’ll tell you, there are those in a lot higher latitudes than this one who want the same thing.”
I scribbled furiously in my homegrown shorthand with a pencil that fit clumsily in my fingers. “I’ve grown to think that belief is overrated. Belief is just a mental process of accepting things that others tell you. And people either lie to you or unknowingly repeat lies to you. Isn’t faith an entirely different thing?”
“Excellent John, but I can tell you’re not asking a question. Well done I say. But remember, my purpose is about belief. It’s a simple job, but it’s my job. Remember when you learned to swim? You’d go to the pool and a cute teenager you’d follow to the gates of hell, she was so pretty, would teach you to swim. But she didn’t point to the deep end and say ‘swim.’ What would she do?”
“Oh, I remember well. We’d hold on to the side and kick and kick the water. Then we’d turn over on our backs and kick some more.”
“And what could you do by the end of the summer?”
“I could swim. But you’re asking the questions again.”
“My point is: I’m just like that pretty teenager. To you, she was an angel come down from heaven. But to someone else, she was just a kid herself, teaching you the basics. Once you knew how to swim, you didn’t need her anymore.”
“Well I have to say ‘well done’ to you, Santa. That was pretty good. So you’re saying all that was in preparation for faith in what, Jesus?”
“On that point I remain silent. I am Santa to all the children of the world and my job is belief. If you want to swim the English Channel, to use our analogy, swim the English Channel. If you want to windsurf in the Indian Ocean, well you’ve got the skills to do that too.”
“But does Jesus even exist? Or the Buddha? Muhammad? Are all these tales told just to foster belief?”
Santa Claus rolled his eyes and threw up his white, bearded chin in exasperation. He lifted his hand and clapped it loudly onto his knee.
“John, John, John. Are you really asking that question? Have I failed you that utterly? I hadn’t thought so until now. I’ve taught you to swim. Now swim.”
I lowered my head and looked down at his black boots. “You don’t know how hard it is down there,” I said quietly. “It seems easy from up here.”
“Oh, but I do, Juanito. Do you think I was born with this white beard? Just remember, belief is holding onto the side of the pool and splashing water, going nowhere. Faith is diving into the deep end. Faith is swimming in the ocean. Belief is what you profess in church. Faith is what you do in the world.”
Tears dripped on my notebook. My tears, dammit. “Juanito. Hunh, nobody has called me Juanito since I was a little kid—since I believed in you.”
“I’ve always called you Juanito.”
I laughed and sat upright, wiping tears from my eyes. I realized his hand was on my shoulder. That old guy still liked me, I think he even loved me, despite my forty year grudge. We talked late into the night, until finally I grabbed my things and moved toward the door.
“Oh, you don’t have to go that way,” he said, ho-ho-ho-ing. “It’s a lot easier going down than coming up. Just sit back down and I’ll help you out.”
I believed him and sank into the comfortable chair in which I had been talking with Santa Claus for what seemed like a dozen hours. I thumbed through the many marked up pages of my reporter’s notebook and shook my head.
“You know,” I said, “I’ll never get this article published. I can’t even think of how I’d write it without including myself. And editors hate the word “I”.
“Have a little faith, Juanito,” Santa Claus said as he touched me right between the eyes with his big old thumb.
December 24, 2012
I stirred, sitting in my favorite chair in front of our little live Christmas tree in our living room. It had just the right number of lights for its size. I was warm and comfortable and had that feeling of realizing I had awakened, but desperately wishing I hadn’t.
It was dark outside, and snowing. A lucky year, we’d have a white Christmas.
Coming to my senses, I started and sat bolt upright. I clutched at my breast pocket, feeling for my notebook, somehow knowing what I would find: page after blank page. We had talked for hours, and I can only remember what I just reported. Only one page, deep in the middle of the notebook had any trace of anything on it. You probably guessed. That page had just a few puckers where drops of water had fallen on it.
I stood up and gazed out of my window at the deep indigo sky, full of snowflakes.
Oh Santa, where are you tonight?
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