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Christmas is best cel­e­brated with mul­ti­colored lights | Flickr

When our parents said “go,” my three brothers and I raced down­stairs into the living room. We tugged our stockings off the mantle, trea­suring each chocolate goodie from Santa and eyeing his empty cookie plate and half-drunk milk glass. By turns, we shucked gold and green-wrapped presents with festive tags marked “from Santa.” Over­joyed by the Star Wars Lego sets and that new American Girl doll, we turned to our parents.

“Thanks, Mom and Dad!”

We never believed in Santa Claus. But growing up, I didn’t much miss him. To us, he was both a his­torical figure and an imag­inary char­acter. We should all embrace the joy of Santa this way, not as our annual chimney sweep.

We kids cel­e­brated the real Santa Claus, the third-century bishop from modern-day Turkey who dis­persed his hefty inher­i­tance among the poor, deliv­ering not Lego sets but bags of gold to those who needed them. On Dec. 6, the day of his death, we cel­e­brated St. Nicholas’ Day.

Every year, a lovely friend from church, an émigré from Holland, would knock on our front door, and in what is evi­dently a Dutch tra­dition — don’t ask me why — she would hover in the doorway singing “Sin­terklaas Kapoentje” and pelting us with ginger cookies.

We read books on St. Nicholas and admired the good bishop and never had to ask mommy how the holy man was still alive and kicking.

Parents who tell their children the truth — that the jolly old man died some 1700 years ago — build cama­raderie with their kids. I appre­ciated that my parents respected me enough to be honest with me, and the truth became an inside joke between us.

With four kids bum­bling about the house, they also saved them­selves the hassle of stowing away wrapping paper and devising excuses for why Santa decided against the $400 bike this year.

Encour­aging children to emulate St. Nick also inspires good behavior more than warning them to keep off the Naughty List. Let’s be real: Kids know that Santa’s gifts will always mate­ri­alize under the tree, temper tantrum or not.

Some of you will sadly shake your heads and call me an angry elf. CNN accused the United States Air Force of similar surliness last month after it “shat­tered the magic of Christmas for mil­lions of children” by tweeting that Santa wasn’t real.

On its official Twitter account, the Air Force told two of its bases to drop a feud by threat­ening no Christmas presents — because Santa is a phony. After the Wash­ington Examiner reported the tweet, the Air Force revisited its joke to avoid Scrooge status. It tweeted, “Santa is real,” and tagged the North American Aero­space Defense Command, which, it said, tracks Santa’s sleigh ride. Despite the change, CNN still charged the mil­itary branch with playing “Grinch.”

Even “All I Want For Christmas Is You” singer Mariah Carey won’t deny the exis­tence of Kris Kringle. “Santa comes every year!” she told Buz­zFeed this month.

It’s much more popular to be a Santa believer than a Grinch. The name of Santa Claus sells songs (“Santa Baby,” anyone?), empties shelves of toys, and inspires unnec­essary trips to the shopping mall, where — dare I say it? — he sits on a throne of lies.

Those who believe in sharing the myth of a chimney-hopping Santa will offer this primary objection: Santa Claus is a source, and inspi­ration, of children’s imag­i­nation.

He is. But only if they know Santa Claus is an imag­inary figure.

We tell children stories to move their imag­i­na­tions. We read them fables and C.S. Lewis and Where the Wild Things Are. Children know these stories to be fiction, but they still appre­ciate the fantasy. Dis­tin­guishing between imagined worlds and the one we inhabit doesn’t detract from their curious sense of wonder.

So Santa Claus doesn’t have to rally his reindeer to engage our curiosity. I knew fairies weren’t real either, but that didn’t stop me from making homes for them in the garden.

In eight-year-old Vir­ginia O’Hanlon’s famous 1897 letter to the editor of a New York news­paper, she asks for the truth: “Is there a Santa Claus?”

The editor, in prose that should inspire a reader of any age, tells the young girl not to lose faith. His response is the most-printed news­paper edi­torial to this day.

“The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see,” he writes. “Nobody can con­ceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.”

But what if we reserve our faith in the unseen for virtues, like love and trust, or religion? What if we were to choose it rightly, and keep it, forever?

If Santa is real, all children must learn the truth and grow up. If he is an imag­inary fellow, we can believe in him always.

So no, Vir­ginia, there isn’t a Santa Claus. But that doesn’t mean you can’t leave him cookies.

 

Madeline Fry is a senior studying French.