My children still believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. They are 6 and 8. Madeleine really is old enough and smart enough to be suspicious. If she is, she hasn’t let on. In fact, a few months ago Ephraim lost a tooth and wanted to borrow Madeleine’s little tooth box to keep his tooth in for the the Tooth Fairy. Madeleine was scared to death that the Tooth Fairy would keep the box and not return it. She even wrote a note to the Tooth Fairy asking her to leave the box. This is Madeleine. She is incredibly smart. Steven and I have to watch what we talk about around her because stuff is not over her head anymore. She picks up on everything.
But she still believes in Santa and the Tooth Fairy.
Last night we were talking about visiting Santa. This weekend they are planning on going with my mom to her church for a children’s Christmas breakfast and photo op with Santa. Because there is a possibility of bad weather this weekend, those plans are up in the air. But Saturday morning there is also a breakfast with Santa at their school. Last night I told them, “If you don’t get to go to Mimi’s church to see Santa, we can try to go to school to see him.”
Ephraim’s eyes got wide. “Those are fake Santas!” he exclaimed! “Because he can’t be two places at the same time!” There it is, I thought. The appearance of disbelief. But it wasn’t, actually. Ephraim still believes in the real Santa, and he knows that there are dress-up Santas that help the real Santa during the Christmas season. It wasn’t disbelief. It was just disappointment.
My kids have been asking about Elf on the Shelf. Several of their friends have one, and they really want one. I wanted to know what they really believed about the Elf, so I feigned ignorance.
“What is the purpose of the Elf on the Shelf?” They talked about how he watches you to make sure you’re not naughty and every night he does something different and you have to find him in the morning.
“So he’s an Elf from the North pole and he tells Santa how good you’ve been?” They nodded.
“How do you get an Elf on the Shelf?” I asked. Madeleine said, “Well, my friend said you could just buy one at Barnes and Noble.”
I said, “So, you can buy this elf. And he really talks to Santa about you. An elf that you’ve bought.”
They both nodded enthusiastically. Despite the very obvious idea that a toy that you buy is probably not a real North Pole Elf, my children believe.
My children believe, even when it doesn’t always make sense. Even when they are aware of the inconsistencies. Even when they can make logical connections. Even when it turns out the person they thought was the real Santa isn’t, they still believe in Santa.
It often seems that there is this line between belief and intelligence that cannot be crossed. If you believe in something that cannot be proven, you can’t be intelligent. If you are intelligent, you can’t have a belief in the unbelievable.
I want that line to disappear.
I don’t know how. I don’t know the answer to this struggle. But I want to be able to say: I believe and I can’t explain it. I admit it doesn’t all make sense. I agree with the logic and the impossibility and the paradoxes. But I still believe in something big and magical and life-giving.
In about an hour, my children will come downstairs and check their stockings. Today is St. Nicholas day, and St. Nick – or Santa Claus – came last night and left gold coins and gifts in their stockings. He will come again on Christmas Eve. I will watch them with a bittersweet heart, wondering if I am right to teach them this faith, or if I shouldn’t be encouraging them to believe in things that don’t always make sense. I will watch them and be amazed. I will watch them with wonder. Because their faith in all things unexplainable is strong and resilient.