Young believer makes his wish

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Ottawa, ON - November 17, 2007-Santa Claus waves to the kids at the  Annual firefighter Help Santa toy parade  in Ottawa, Saturday, November 17, 2007  Photo by Jean Levac, The Ottawa Citizen, Canwest News Services (For Ottawa Citizen story by ???, CITY) ASSIGNMENT NUMBER 87308
Ottawa, ON – November 17, 2007-Santa Claus waves to the kids at the Annual firefighter Help Santa toy parade in Ottawa, Saturday, November 17, 2007.   Photo by Jean Levac, The Ottawa Citizen, Canwest News Services

It didn’t make any sense that Santa would show up at a store front on Clinton Street in Defiance, Ohio.

But I was young enough to still believe. Sort of. Like the other kids who had been in line ahead of me, I climbed on this fat guy’s lap and informed him that I wanted an electric train like the one in the B.F. Goodrich window.

I didn’t pull on his beard to see if it were the real thing. My parents raised me to be respectful of my elders. Indeed, I noticed that the beard appeared to be growing out of Santa’s face. I was right. Maybe his old gentleman was not just a fat guy dressed up in a red suit.

I must have been old enough to be in school that year, so let’s say seven or eight. I had walked by myself from school, down Clinton Street. I don’t know if Mom and Dad suspected that I was becoming a Santa skeptic. In any case, they pretended that I was still a believer.

I’m sure I let them know about my visit with the “jolly old elf.” More important, I’m sure I shared with them what I told him I wanted for Christmas. Grownups would have called that covering your bets.

I didn’t teach my own children to believe in Santa Claus. When they were just kids, I suppose I worried how learning the truth would teach them not to trust people.

I’m not sure I was right. I’m sure I’m not the only person who played lots of make-believe games as a child. As an only child, I readily invented brothers and other playmates. In fact, I created an entire roster for my team at 602 Jefferson Avenue.

My favorite radio show in those days was called “Let’s Pretend.” It richly fed my imagination. At some point it occurred to me that Santa was just another make-believe character whose magic brought joy to lots of children. It doesn’t follow that those children grow up to become skeptics.

In my case, I spent eight years in theological schools long before I doubted the existence of a spiritual world. It had nothing to do with learning that Santa was make-believe.

Even with my perspective on religious belief these days, I find the season magical. Christmas not only prompts people to give to charities. It seems to stir people to be friendlier.

Its not as if they don’t want some stranger who really is Santa to think they’ve been naughty. Rather, the season draws us closer to family and friends. The season reminds us that it’s better to give than to receive. I’m not alone to love that feeling. More blessed?
Sure it is.

It turns out that Christmas isn’t so much about make-believe characters. It’s not “Let’s Pretend” time. It’s not even about buying and receiving gifts. It’s not even so much about religion, although anyone can love the birth stories of Matthew and Luke.

I think the way we celebrate this season mainly is about our common humanity. Unlike any other time, we reach out to others and they reach out to us.

As I write this, I see the Christmas tree all lighted up in the corner of the living. The wreaths pick up that theme on the front door and over the mantle. The miniature Santas and Father Christmases that preside over it all join to make this such a special time.

Throughout the year, we may often feel otherwise. But these days we know the truth. We are not alone. “Joy to the World” – we are not alone.

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