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Answering The Inevitable Question
Notwithstanding the question posted by Virginia O’Hanlon, and the answer given by Frank Church, there still remains the question, "Is There A Santa Claus?"
This most difficult question is challenging. Yes, Santa Claus exists just as goodness and faith exist, in a world that sometimes seems to hold these values in poor esteem. But that is not the complete answer, and it is not the answer to the true question posed.
To assist is answering the question, a few stories for your consideration.
Coping with the reality of Santa Claus can be a tricky matter
Thursday, December 14, 2000
Jean Young remembers the Christmas Eve her father leveled with her about Santa. She was 10, and it was awful. She thought she'd cry herself to sleep.
Yet here she is at Mall 205, wheeling her 15-month-old daughter, Renisha, past the big bearded man in the red velvet suit, whetting the toddler's appetite for that first celebrity snapshot.
Young hides the presents. She eats the cookies and drinks the milk. And she remembers the pain, but she remembers the magic more.
This is the cage that many adults build willingly but sometimes dread climbing out of: how to deal with young Santa believers, older Santa doubters and the eldest Santa iconoclasts who won't keep their mouths shut.
It's a hot political issue for children of a certain age. Ask third-grader Mallory Galash, an 8-year-old believer at Woodland Elementary School, who feels called on to choose sides.
Her older cousins, Jordan and Dane, say 'Santa's not real. "I was telling my (4-year-old) cousin, 'You can believe whatever you want,' " Mallory said. "I ignore them."
Mallory's teacher, Paul Cameron, says these are the days. First-graders usually believe. Fifth-graders often doubt. He always tells his third-graders that he can hear the bells from Santa's sleigh.
He says this partly because he thinks that the 23 little heads bent toward him at story time are graduating from a concrete idea -- a physics-defying bearded guy -- to an abstract idea -- a symbol of selfless generosity and superhuman kindness. He also says this because he doesn't want believers to be teased.
He came to his own conclusions about the concrete Santa 40 years ago, when the saint wore the same shoes as a guest who arrived late. Cameron's older sister confirmed the revelation. He still remembers being devastated, he says.
At this stage, Cameron thinks, most parents say nothing. The parents "just hope it's a phase of development, and they (the children) will grow out of it, and they don't need to discuss it," Cameron said.
Yet some are obviously putting a lot of effort into keeping the North Pole on the map. To listen to Mallory's classmates at Woodland Elementary is to sense a holiday filled with subtle propaganda, outright disinformation and wily counter-intelligence.
One one side, there are bags of presents that simply materialize on the lawn outside the holiday dining room when no children are looking. At some homes, there is a clatter on the roof, followed by a present sliding off.
Sometimes letters sent to Santa are answered; sometimes there's an autographed photo on the plate of cookie crumbs. Even the school librarian has a photo of herself with Santa -- a souvenir of time spent at the North Pole, the students say.
On the other side, there are bright children who see a Santa at every mall and smell something afoot. A little girl goes to sleep in her parents' bed Christmas Eve, ensuring no suspicious moves toward the tree.
A 10-year-old aimed a video camera at his parents' bed and watched six hours of tape, reassured that they were sleeping the whole time. Tyler Byer wants a tiny video device to plant in his stocking -- that way, he can be certain, he says.
Somewhere between doubt and belief exists a reasonable explanation, says 8-year-old Brooke Engels.
"(Some) people are pretending, because Santa wouldn't stand by one of those things and ask people for money," she said.
The real Santa has a huge belly and reindeer, she reasons. Fakers are fitter. If she senses insincerity, she plans to look around for livestock.
Backing away from big guy
Some other adults back away from the fat man slowly. Santa used to sign his name to the biggest presents unwrapped by Tamara Wade's daughters. Now 9-year-old Alexis and 3-year-old Cheyanne see Santa's name on little gifts, and their mother's name attached to the big ones.
Wade has three jobs: house cleaning, waitressing and selling pictures of Photo Promotions' Santas in local malls.
"I decided I needed the recognition . . . 'Mom worked her butt off for this,' " Wade said.
Even the man in the red suit -- in this case, Richard Roane -- doesn't overstate his case to the young ones.
His blue eyes sparkle, his belt is inscribed with the saint's name, and his own white beard flows six inches down his chest. But when children at Mall 205 ask whether he's real, "I just say 'I'm here, aren't I?' " Roane said. "I'm not going to lie to them."
Avoiding Santa altogether
There are other parents who don't build the cage to begin with. Some aren't Christian. Others base it on their Christianity -- a child disillusioned about Santa might question Jesus, they say. Other parents simply believe in round-the-clock candor.
It's a personal decision, and it is often being made by parents who "fondly remember the time when they were believers," said child psychologist Nancy Robinson, recently retired from the University of Washington. "They want their children to have it as long as they can. There's a lot of good will in the story and only a little potential for harm."
Belief is strong in the youngest ones, but even those 9 or 10 or older often hold onto it, despite doubts. Eventually, someone will tell them -- even though parents are rarely up for the job, Robinson said.
Coping with revelation
There are gentle ways to handle it, experts say. Preferably it's sometime like March, not Christmas Eve; preferably it's a sympathetic oldster, not a mean classmate or a taunting sibling.
Preferably children bring it up on their own, approaching at their own speed: "Do you believe?" or "Why are there different Santas everywhere?" Parents must make their own decision about how much reality the answers contain.
Eventually, it happens, and developmentally, that might be a good thing, Robinson said.
"We all have to admit that children's lives are not completely stress-free," she said. "This is . . . a moment of loss that's very real to children that is a lesson in coping and grieving. It's a fairly innocent one, because everybody understands and supports what the child's going through.
"We can't protect our children from life's experiences. Although we all remember it, it didn't devastate us. It made life easier when other losses came along."
So . . . what do you say about Santa?
Although some experts think a reality check is the best thing, others say there's no harm in a little imagination
Thursday, December 14, 2000
TIGARD -- At Washington Square Mall, the line for Santa seems to stretch as far as a child's imagination.
In some way, the dozens of children and adults all still believe.
"I'm 60 years old, and I'm going to sit in Santa's lap," said Susan Conley. "Our kids don't have much to believe in anymore. Give them Santa Claus."
But a nationally known child psychologist, Robert R. Butterworth of International Trauma Associates in California, says reality must come first. Butterworth thinks that believing in Santa past age 8 could be detrimental to a child's health.
"People say, 'Oh my God, you're the Grinch who stole Christmas,' but kids are already figuring it out," he said. "Children who still believe in Santa after the age of 8 are at risk of being ostracized and made fun of by the majority of nonbelievers."
Butterworth said studies show only one out of four 8-year-olds still believes in Santa. He figured it out when he caught his father playing the Easter bunny.
In line for Santa Claus, Stuart Adams, 5, swears he will always believe in Santa. He bounces up and down, his eyes full of joy, and gives proof of Santa's existence:
"He's right there!" he squeals. "He gives me lots of toys. I want a Mighty Mogul train and a stretch limo. That's all I want."
His mom, Carol Adams, doesn't dispute this.
"I believe there's good in Santa," she said. "My sister-in-law told her kids there's no such thing, but I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It's never bothered me as an adult, and I believed."
But Butterworth said it's up to parents to make sure children are told nicely what he believes is the truth.
"Santa is an interesting phenomenon," he said. "We all remember how the news was broken to us. It should be done in a way that's not harmful. About 78 percent of kids over 8 don't believe in Santa, and they will be unmerciful."
Believing is OK
Bah humbug, said Dianne Wilson, a counselor at C.F. Tigard Elementary School with a master's degree in family therapy.
"I would never jump to the conclusion that a child will be scarred for life if his parents don't tell him about Santa," she said. "I've never heard kids being teased about Santa -- if they were, it hasn't been to the point that they're traumatized. Kids are more likely to be teased for wearing glasses."
But did she believe?
"My brother believed, but I didn't," she said. "I just thought it was silly. I only believed in the tooth fairy."
She never told her brother the truth, and she said sensitive families don't have to worry about siblings teasing younger children about Santa.
Chyron Phillips, 14, also sat in Santa's lap and said his classmates do not harass him about his beliefs.
"I've been told that Santa isn't real, but I don't believe it," he said. "I just want to believe there is stuff like that that's hard to explain.
"I tell people, 'You can think that there's no such thing as Santa.' I just know because I have a feeling in my stomach on Christmas morning -- I just know he's around."
Butterworth said parents won't ruin Christmas by telling their children Santa doesn't exist.
"Explain the giving part of St. Nicholas," he said. "That's what Christmas is about."
But parents say it's not that easy.
"I still question the whole thing," said Brandi Miller. "I think it's good for kids to have the whole tradition, but I think that's going to be a hard transition -- 'Ah, by the way, I've kinda been fibbing' -- but I made it through it. I think my parents just told me."
Anita Croxell, 30, said she'll believe in Santa until her daughter, Kristen Daniella Jones, 4, stops.
"She does, therefore I do," she said. "When she's 12 or 13 we'll probably explain a little, but I have no idea how."
Kathy Parish's 3-year-old twin girls and 6-year-old son have already been told Santa's a myth, but it doesn't matter.
"They know he's pretend, but we still do the Santa thing," Parish said. "I don't like to lie to them, but they still like to come see him."
It's a silly question
Tammy Martin said she lets her children believe in Santa, though she wonders whether it's the right thing for her Christian family.
Then little Markita Martin, 3, catches sight of Santa.
"I thought you were going to come to my house," she shouts.
"I will! I promise," he shouts back.
"We still hang up stockings, and they still play the game, but down deep you know it's not true," Markita's mother continued. "But he looks real, doesn't he? Maybe he is."
For Santa Claus, the question is just silly.
"Of course Santa Claus exists," Santa said. "Anyone who doesn't believe should look in the eyes of the children who sit in Santa's lap and tell them he doesn't exist."
Sometimes, Santa said the children who sit in his lap don't believe in him.
"I show them the magic key I have to get into all of their houses, and the ring with red eyes that connects me to Rudolph," he said. "Then they believe. When they leave, they give me a hug and a kiss and tell me what they want for Christmas."
Parents can tell kids true story of St. Nick
At this time of year, young children often share their doubts about the existence of Santa Claus
Thursday, December 14, 2000
When the question of Santa's existence is ambiguous even for adults, it's hard to decide how -- or whether -- to tell children the news.
"It's up to parents to have that discussion," said Carol Sadler, head counselor for the Tigard-Tualatin School District. "I think most kids kind of get it, and then everyone pretends from there. But I'm 32, and I'm still toying with the idea that he's still out there."
She is sure Santa's magic exists.
"I had a Santa Claus vision when I was a kid," she said. "There was an alley between our home and the neighbor's house. I looked out the window, and I saw the full-meal deal -- the suit and the reindeer and everything.
"I have no idea if that was a dream, but I was convinced. Ever since I've had the vision, I've never been really sure."
But she is sure no teary-eyed children have come to her office to ask about Santa, and parents haven't called to ask for helpful how-tos.
Robert Butterworth, a child psychologist in Los Angeles, said it's really not that difficult.
"Here's how you do it," he said. "You say, 'We're all Santa. Now that you're old enough, you're Santa, too. And if you tell your brother or sister, we'll break your neck.' "
Some techno-babies have taken to the Internet for their answers. A recent query read, "I want to know the truth about Santa Claus. As a child, I think I have been tricked. Also, are my parents Martians?"
Probably the child's parents are not Martians, but according to historians, there is a real Santa parents can tell their children about.
A man named Nicholas was born in 245 A.D. and lived in what is now Turkey. His father died while he was young, and Nicholas inherited his father's wealth.
The story goes that Nicholas gave his money anonymously to the needy, especially children. He often gave children gifts when he passed them on the street.
Once, Nicholas learned that there were three girls who could not get married because their father could not pay their dowries. Nicholas sneaked out into the dark and threw a sack of gold through the window of their house for the first daughter. On the next night, another bag flew through the window for the second daughter.
But on the third night, the window was closed. Nicholas dropped his bag of gold down the chimney. The girls found gold in the stockings they had hung to dry by the fireplace the night before.
Nicholas eventually was canonized by the Catholic Church, and it's his story that inspires the tale of jolly St. Nick.
Schools steering festivities clear of Santa
Activities that avoid religious themes are stressing other traditional symbols
Wednesday, December 13, 2000
MEDFORD -- Santa is disappearing from many public schools, where teachers and administrators are trying to avoid any religious overtones during a holiday season celebrated in different ways besides visits from jolly old men in red suits.
"We try to keep it as neutral as we can, especially in this day and age," said Bob Reese, principal of Orchard Hill Elementary School in Medford.
Through the years, Orchard Hill has swapped Santa songs and Christmas carols for more generic jingles such as "Frosty the Snowman" and "Winter Wonderland," Reese says.
Christmas trees in classrooms are giving way to food and toy drives.
"You want the students to learn how good it feels to give to people who are more needy," said Mary Barker, principal of Hanby Middle School in Gold Hill. "It's a wonderful lesson."
At Lincoln Elementary School in Ashland, Principal Susan Hollandsworth says students learn about the winter solstice and hear a story about children bringing light to their village after the shortest day of the year.
The traditional Christmas tree has been replaced by a "giving tree" under which dozens of toys are piled and collected for the Children's Advocacy Center.
"We really do a little bit of everything," Hollandsworth said.
The universal approach is also popular with Joan Howell, a music teacher at Phoenix Elementary who uses the school's winter program to teach students about history and different cultures.
"I don't avoid holiday songs because they're part of history," Howell said.
But now she has a broader mix of tunes.
In last week's program, "Hands Around the World," students performed pieces with both Christian and Jewish origins along with a xylophone-rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," Howell said.
"I look for songs that are musical, that are easy for kids to sing," she adds. "I do try to pick songs that are from different traditions."
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