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The Gift of Believing

In this season of generosity my husband and I have received a most precious gift. Our fifth-grade daughter still believes in Santa Claus. Yes, I've done my best to perpetuate the legend without going overboard, and to accentuate the importance of giving rather than receiving during the holiday season. Yet you parents know how magical playing Santa can be. And those of you with school age or grown children also know how quickly those Santa years fly by, and therefore how treasured each passing Christmas is.

I myself remember pressing my mother for "the truth" at the tender age of seven. After a spontaneous and prideful deduction of my own, without bitterness or disappointment, I came home from first grade and confronted her head-on. "Mom, don't lie to me, you and dad are really Santa, right? You really buy the presents from Santa, don't you?" She tried to dodge me but caved pretty quickly, confirmed my suspicions, and swore me to secrecy so as not to ruin it for my younger siblings. As the oldest of four and thus the first to know about Santa, I had many years afterwards to watch my younger sisters and brother revel in the wonder of the Santa mystery and the surprises of Christmas morning.

I even took my baby brother to see Santa a couple of times, and nostalgically joined him for a picture one year on the old guy's lap. It was around that time I began to see the error of my smarty-pants ways. As I reached adulthood, got married and had a child of my own, I vowed never to so easily deny Santa.

How could I? It was more fun that I could possibly imagine. Yet in recent years the detailed questions have come hard and fast from our daughter. Thanks to the Internet, that dynamic collective consciousness, what once was just a concept can now be proven real. I could punch up NORAD and show her the real-time satellite-image of Santa's Christmas Eve ride. We could visit one of Santa's many Web sites and even email the jolly old elf.

Better yet, he would write back with a real letter. Moving to Florida from Chicago three years ago involved going from a house with a brick fireplace and chimney to one with neither. Yet our daughter's faith was unwavering. Trusting her father and I would leave the patio door unlocked, she understood Santa simply parked his sleigh and reindeer not on the treacherously high roof, but on our roomy pool deck well stocked with reindeer food and a bucket of fresh water.

Santa then easily slipped - rather than squeezed - in through the sliding door. Gifts were thus effortlessly deposited under the tree while their bearer enjoyed refreshments in the kitchen. Mysteriously, Santa's presents were always wrapped in a unique paper imprinted with a repeating pattern of his face, topped off by special bows and tags also featuring his happy countenance. And that paper was never found in the collection of usual wrappings and decorations lying around the house in December. Last year we even prepared a gourmet snack for Kris Kringle. Reasoning he could stomach only so many cookies (and it being too warm for hot cocoa in Florida) we left him an antipasto-style plate of meats, cheeses, dates and sweets.

He left the plate empty. Upon our child's tenth birthday this July, I wistfully contemplated what this Christmas would bring. Had I already seen my last letter to Santa from her? Would the kids at school burst the bubble and shatter her illusions? Was it all over in our house? Since she is our only child, I knew there might not be many - or any - Santa years left. But it was merely July, so my thoughts waned until a few months passed, and suddenly in September I was hearing, "You know what I'd like for Christmas, mom?" "Time to start your Christmas list," I told her, which she dutifully did. Fifth grade began and as the school weeks passed and December crept up on us, more questions and comments ensued.

"Mom, have you ever seen Santa on Christmas Eve?" (Well, no I had to admit, I had not been so fortunate.) "Nicole at school actually has him on video!" (Saints preserve us!) "When do the elves come to start watching if you're being good?" (after Thanksgiving), "What does Santa do if he sees you spying on him when you're supposed to be sleeping?" (he winks, laughs, but doesn't speak a word), "How does the Post Office know where to deliver my letter to Santa?" (just write North Pole and they'll get it there) and "Where exactly is the North Pole anyway and how does the Post Office get the mail there?" (Satellite-precision air-drops, naturally). Then just the other day my heart skipped a beat when out of the blue she exclaimed, "You know mom, none of the kids at school really talk about Mrs.

Claus, or the elves, or Rudolph and the other reindeer anymore. They just talk about what kinds of presents they'll get. Some kids don't even believe in Santa anymore." "Do you?" I asked, holding my breath. "Of course," she said matter-of-factly.

"Then you'd better get your letter to Santa written," I exhaled. "Finalize your list and send it in the mail tomorrow. It's already December." So without further delay, she took out a piece of paper and penned this little note: Dear Santa Claus, How are you doing? How are your elfs? A special present from you would be a bell from your sleigh.

But if you can't get me that here are the other presents I want. (. . .

an eight-point list of mostly Webkinz stuffed animals followed) Love, (her name) P.S. Say Hi to the reindeer and your wife A bell from his sleigh. The timeless gift Santa presented the doubting little boy in The Polar Express, made recently into a Christmas movie classic. Her number one request wasn't a toy, video game, computer or, miraculously though close, another dreaded Webkinz, but something you can't put a price on, something you can't buy in a store.

And although asking for proof, she is also asking to keep believing. Believing in the things we take on faith until, unable to rationalize them with our minds, we come to know them with our hearts. She asked for the hope and mystery to continue. She's not ready to give up on any of that, and neither am I.

I put the letter in an envelope, stamped it, and mailed it immediately to the North Pole. What I know for sure is I'll never deny that Santa brings those presents wrapped in the paper and bows none of the other gifts are done up in. And I'll be able to do so with a clean conscience, because I, like so many other parents, am Santa Claus.

We are all Santa Claus. And that's real enough for me. I'd better get moving.

I have a sleigh bell to wrap. Copyright (c) 2007 Karen Talavera.

Karen Talavera is a keen observer, critical thinker and aspiring book author with a passion for writing, learning and teaching. She lives in South Florida and sounds off frequently on her blog of the same name, Sound Off. Read more of Karen's writing at http://worldwidesoundoff.blogspot.com .

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