“Daddy, is Santa Claus real?” Anthony squirmed his way onto my lap, forcing himself between me and my book. He pushed his glasses back up his nose and peered up at me.
I sighed - this wasn't going to be an easy conversation. Marking my place in the book, I set it on the coffee table.
“Of course he’s real, Anthony. Why do you ask?” Was he mature enough to understand the real story of Santa Claus?
“My friend said that only babies believe in Santa Claus. He said Santa’s a lie.” Anthony absently played with the pocket of my jacket.
There was going to be no getting around this one.
I tousled his hair. “You can't always believe what your friends tell you, buddy. Santa is definitely real. His story begins a long time ago.”
With as much storytelling flair as I could muster, I told him the story of Saint Nicholas.
“He was born in a little town, and his family didn't have much money. When he was a young man, both of his parents died. They left him everything they had, even though it wasn't very much.
“Instead of taking that money for himself, though, he gave it away to the people that were even poorer than he was. There was a father who had three daughters, but he didn't have enough money to keep them, so he was going to have to sell them. Saint Nicholas heard about them, and he gave them enough that they were able to take care of themselves.
“And that’s just one story of how he helped people. He spent his whole life doing things like that! Santa Claus was a real man, a wonderful man, who made the world a much better place. But the real power of Santa Claus is what he means to us.”
I paused to see if Anthony was still listening. His eyes were transfixed on mine, so I continued.
“Santa Claus isn't really a man who flies around with a bunch of reindeer on Christmas Eve - he’s a symbol of the goodness we need to show to the people around us. There are a lot of children who don’t get presents on Christmas, and Santa is a reminder that we need to be thankful for what we have and we need to share what we have with others.
“The symbol of Santa Claus - what he means to us today - is what makes him important. He’s…” I fumbled for the right words. “Santa is real because his story inspires us and teaches us. He doesn't bring us presents on Christmas Eve, but he teaches us to love people all year ‘round.”
I just hoped he was grasping the beauty of the real Santa Claus.
Anthony opened his mouth as if he was going to say something, then he quickly shut it again. His mind was working.
“So Santa isn't the one who brings us our presents? And he doesn't have reindeer that fly?”
I smiled to myself. “No, Santa doesn't bring us presents, and he doesn't have any reindeer.”
“Does he live at the North Pole?”
“No, he doesn’t live at the North Pole. He lives in our hearts and minds.”
At this, Anthony drew his eyebrows drew together in childish fury and pointed his index finger at my face. Confused tears gathered in the corners of his eyes. “So Santa’s not real? I hate you, daddy!”