“You're a mean one Mr. Grinch.”
That's the tune that keeps ringing in my head after a recent Facebook posting. I asked Facebook friends to tell me stories about their experience as children when they discovered the “truth” about Santa Claus. Some took to task about using the word “truth.”
It set off a chain reaction of responses. Some were stories, but many were like this:
“The truth about Santa Claus is that he exists. Or she. Santa doesn’t always come with reindeer and a red suit. Often Santa is the neighbor who provides warm coats to a family in need, people who shop for toys for tots, the grandma who bakes cookies and delivers them around the neighborhood. Santa is you and me helping others and spreading love and happiness to everyone we encounter,” wrote Susan Nancarrow of Seaford.
One of the most common comments was this: “What is the truth of which you speak?”
“Uhhh, what's the 'truth' Ron? Are you saying there isn't a Santa Claus?” wrote Linda Dickey, an artist friend of mine.
Then I ended up defending myself, because I believe and say unequivocally, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
When that moment occurs
I think all of us can recall the precise moment when we discover the story of Santa packing up his sleigh with toys and coming down the chimney is, well, an embellishment. For most of us that occurs around the ages of 6 or 7. An Associated Press poll found the age to be 8 or 9.
I was 6 years old in the first grade at West Seaford Elementary School when a group of boys burst my bubble. I cried and defended Santa. When I confronted my mother that evening, she told me the story of many Santas who work throughout the world on Christmas Eve to spread holiday cheer. That was enough to satisfy me.
Others who responded to my request wrote about their experiences:
“I’ve blacked that tragic time out...maybe my therapist can help us find out when it happened,” wrote Jo Schmeiser of Milford.
“Just sorta evolved, maybe 12ish, that we keep Santa alive,” wrote Lynn Betts of Seaford.
“When I was about 10 there were rumors in school. So when my dear mother and I were trimming the tree, I asked her if there was really a Santa. She looked down at me and said, 'Yes, Etta there is a Santa for everyone.' Always being such a wise woman, that answer left us both happy about always believing in the spirit of Santa,” wrote Etta Todd, a former co-worker.
“Three seconds ago when I read this. Now to go find a warm fuzzy blanket to curl up with,” wrote classmate April Willey.
One of my classmates, Alan Quillen, told me that I told him in third grade. That doesn't help my image at all.
Another classmate, Allen Handy, wrote that one of our friends said he and his brother swore they saw Santa's sleigh. “We were convinced he was real up until high school. No kidding.”
Here is the best story I received:
“I was about 7 or 8 and was rummaging through my mom's jewelry box (I knew I wasn't supposed to, but couldn't resist). There were teeth in one corner of the box, and I suddenly realized they were my teeth. I made a quick leap to the shattering conclusion that my mom was the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.
“I soon confirmed it with my mom and don't remember being in trouble for getting into her jewelry box, as I'm sure she thought that finding out the 'truth' about Santa Claus was punishment enough,” wrote Denise Leathem of Milton.
Santa comes to America in 1770s
• Santa Claus evolves from the Dutch nickname Sinter Klass and first appears in 1773 in the American press.
• In 1820, stores begin to advertise Christmas shopping.
• In 1823, Episcopal minister Clement Clarke Moore writes a poem for his three daughters. “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” is largely responsible for the modern-day image of a “right jolly old elf” who is rotund and has a unexplained ability to go down chimneys with the nod of his head. He rides in a miniature sleigh with eight flying reindeer leaving presents for good boys and girls. The poem is better know as “Twas The Night Before Christmas.”
• In 1881, Harper’s Weekly cartoonist Thomas Nast uses the poem to draw the first likeness of the modern-day Santa with a red suit trimmed in white fur who works with elves at the North Pole.
• In 1890, Santa makes his first appearance in a department store in Brockton, Mass.
• In the 1890s, the Salvation Army hires unemployed men and dresses them in red suits to solicit donations.
• In 1897, at the urging of her father, 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon writes a letter to The Sun in New York City asking whether Santa Claus exists.
The editorial, “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus,” by Francis Church is the most reprinted editorial ever written in an English language newspaper and has been the subject of books, a movie and a TV series.
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”
And the studies show......
And, yes Virginia, studies have been done on how parents and children deal with the existence of Santa Claus. Research shows that 85 percent of 5-year-olds think Santa is real.
Psychologist Jacqueline Wooley, an expert in the field, found no evidence that the eventual disbelief in Santa affects parental trust.
Studies show that children handle the truth well with positive reactions – it's their parents who say they are sad.