In our house, it's been a long time since we have had a little one waiting anxiously for Santa Claus to arrive. And that makes me little sad.
The fact is that children mature and realize that Santa Claus doesn't land on the roof and descend down your chimney with a pack of toys. But to a parent, the loss of that belief is a sign that your children are growing up and that some of the magic has gone from this time of year.
I, however, refuse to believe claims that Santa is a myth, because I still believe that he exists.
Santa Claus was actually a real person who lived about 1,700 years ago. The real St. Nicholas was a 4th century bishop in Turkey who used his substantial inheritance to help the poor. Legend has it he would toss coins through open windows, and children began hanging up stockings hoping to capture them.
St. Nicholas has evolved through the centuries into the jolly, fat, bearded man in red we know today. He is blessed with the uncanny ability to force children into good behavior (I used to warn mine his elves looked through the windows to give Santa status reports) and reminds adults of the days when they, too, waited to hear sleigh bells on Christmas Eve.
And I miss Santa. I miss the annual trek to the mall for a visit. I miss writing letters to him, mailing them to the North Pole and waiting for a response. I miss sprinkling reindeer food in the yard, setting out a plate of cookies by the fireplace and tracking his progress across the world on the Norad Tracks Santa website.
Of course, I could still do all these things, but my family would probably think I've dipped into the eggnog too often. Besides, a 40-something woman sitting on Santa's lap just may give the jolly old elf the wrong impression.
Although Santa may no longer exist as a person, I believe he endures in a non-physical sense. He is the embodiment of all that is good and wonderful this time of year. He causes children to behave a little better, strangers to treat others with more kindness, and puts a little bit of magic and mystery back into our lives during the holiday season.
As we stress ourselves out trying to recreate the Martha Stewart holiday special in our own homes, perhaps we should all remember what Christmas comes down to: celebrating a miracle in a stable and the pure joy of giving.
As Francis Church famously responded to eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon's question "Is there a Santa Claus?" in the New York Sun back in 1897, "No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Viginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."
He also fills the hearts of adults with joy, if only we let him. Here's hoping we each find a little bit of Santa in ourselves this time of year.