Dear Tell All: I passed Santa Claus meeting with children at Hilldale Mall and felt weirdly depressed. It reminded me of growing up in Madison in more innocent times.
I believed in Santa Claus longer than most of my friends. I remember the joy of putting up stockings, stringing lights and decorating the tree with him in mind — hoping he’d appreciate our family’s hard work and creativity. I remember the wonderful/painful countdown to Christmas Eve and the endless speculative conversations with my younger brother about what Santa might bring us. It seemed that our entire Shorewood Hills neighborhood was obsessed with Santa Claus, just like me. He appeared to bring the world together for a few days.
Then a mean boy at school told me that the mall Santa was just a normal guy wearing a costume. He also claimed that the story of Santa coming down the chimney was fake. I felt sorry for him and his pathetic doubts, secure in the knowledge that Santa was real.
I told my parents about the conversation that night, thinking we’d share a good laugh. They tried to keep the ruse going but overplayed it. I immediately realized the mean boy was right.
I would love to return to my innocent state, right before that moment. I would love to feel that my neighborhood — my country, my world — is capable of being a united community. I would love to believe in generosity, good will and joy, all the things Santa meant to me.
Instead, the world seems like a scary place, and getting scarier all the time. Now I have my own 14-month-old daughter and, after the dispiriting presidential campaign, despair of bringing her up in a world where Santa Claus’ values are increasingly irrelevant.
That’s why I felt so depressed at Hilldale Mall. Santa isn’t just fake; he’s dead.
Dear Grownup: Santa Claus is not dead. He lives whenever a child believes in him. He lives whenever an adult believes in what he stands for — generosity, good will and joy, as you nicely put it.
You see the implication of that statement. Santa doesn’t live outside of us. He lives because of us — because of how we think and how we act. That’s why his existence cannot be disproven by mean boys or other doubters, no matter how hard they try.
In other words, Grownup, the burden is on you. You have a solemn responsibility to keep believing in Santa — not just for your own peace of mind, but for your neighborhood, your country, your world.
Keep believing for your daughter’s sake.
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