By: Holly Vanderhaar
For the last several years, we’ve had a Christmas Eve tradition. My daughters get to open one present—which is always new Christmas- or winter-themed pajamas—and we cuddle up on the couch and watch The Polar Express. This year, The Polar Express’s theme of belief was especially relevant, and the wheels were turning in their heads as well as on the tracks. Twice during the movie, Gracie asked me if I believed in Santa. I said, “Yes, well, I believe he represents the spirit of giving.” I don’t think that answer was satisfactory to her, but she didn’t seem willing to press the issue.
Did I miss a good opportunity to tell them that I don’t believe in Santa Claus? I exist very comfortably in the language of metaphor, and so in that sense I wasn’t lying when I said I believed in him as a symbol for the spirit of giving. But at their age, they don’t function that way yet. They think in much more concrete terms. When they finally figure out that he isn’t a literal truth, my answer will probably sound like a lie to them, and maybe I should have said that most grown-ups don’t believe in Santa anymore, and that’s why they can’t hear the sleigh bell in the movie.
To tell the truth, I was surprised by the way things went down this Christmas. After my daughters really seemed uninterested in Santa Claus this year, to the point where I was convinced that they’d stopped believing, they spent the weekend completely immersing themselves in the myth, taking great interest in helping me prepare the plate of cookies and worrying that the reindeer had enough carrots. They both asked me to keep checking the NORAD Santa tracker site to monitor his progress. They seemed determined to believe.
And speaking of NORAD, it occurs to me that—rather than rendering Santa quaint and outdated—21st century technology has provided kids with a lot more “proof” that Santa is real. Back in my day, you mailed a letter and had no idea if it got there or not. If you were lucky, your parents took you to sit on the lap of a guy at the mall (although that kind of close contact with a stranger freaked me out, so I usually opted not to go). A lot more was taken on faith, and the proof depended on whether you got what you asked for in your letter. Now, Santa e-mails you back, using details provided by your parents to render his answer all the more plausible. Then there’s the NORAD site to monitor Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve, using Google Maps and Google Earth technology as well as phony news updates from around the globe. If my daughters are half as credulous as I was when I was a kid, they’re going to keep believing for a long time, now that the Internet is in the mix. But, paradoxically, I think their stubborn insistence on believing this year is probably a sign that our Santa days are numbered.