I wrote a letter to Santa.
It was second grade. I still have a copy. It goes something like this: How are you? How is Mrs. Claus? Is it cold in the North Pole? How are the elves? Is Rudolph’s nose still red? I love my teacher Mrs. Brown. She’s nice.
Looking back on this letter makes me proud for several reasons: 1) I didn’t ask for a single toy because I was too preoccupied with questions (sign of a future journalist, perhaps?); 2) I was clever enough to include a shout-out to my teacher at Dolby Elementary because I knew she was the one who sent the letters; and 3) I fully expected my letter to travel thousands of miles to the snowy North Pole and land in the pudgy hands of Santa Claus, or at least one of his helpful elves.
It would still be a couple of years before I’d question Santa’s validity and as soon as I did – just as the grown-ups warned – he quit coming down our chimney on Christmas Eve (even though we didn’t have a chimney). Christmas was never the same after that.
When I was a little girl, I didn’t just believe in Santa Claus. There were many other things, too.
When we’re kids, we’re told to believe that we can do anything, so we do. Want to be president? No problem. Astronaut? Got it in the bag. Judy Blume? Sure thing. It all seemed so easy, simple and effortless, but as we grew up, believing didn’t seem like quite enough anymore. We found out what it takes to be a president or an astronaut, so we changed our dreams to something more plausible.
Sometimes I like to go back to those early days and remember what it was like to assume that the world would unfold just as I thought it would. There was no reason to think any different then, because I hadn’t learned all I needed to know. I didn’t have all the grown-up information. Ignorance was bliss. Santa was real, all my dreams would come true, and everyone would live happily ever after – I believed it, so it had to be so.
The message changes as we get older. The blindfold is taken away and instead of being told to have blind faith in things like Santa Claus, we’re told we should just have faith, blind or not – even with the information that tries to lead us in the other direction, all the reasons why-not, and the completely practical explanations of why the things we believe simply can’t be true. We’re taught that just believing isn’t enough.
But then again, maybe that’s what believing is. Maybe it’s not assuming that it must be so, but accepting that we can make it so.
Around the time I became skeptical about the existence of Santa Claus, I’d ask my father the same question, again and again: Do you believe in Santa? And he would answer right away, Yes. Still doubtful, I’d follow up – Do you really-really believe in Santa? And he would answer, Yes. If I’d ask him today, he’d still say yes.
My father used to have a saying when I was growing up. Instead of “seeing is believing,” he’d say: “believing is seeing.”
Maybe faith is faith, even without the blindfold.
This column appears in the December issue of Thrive.