I'm safe for another year. I did not put my foot in it as I have in the past. The secret of Santa Claus is still safe for the children whom I teach. Every year when we return from Thanksgiving break, I start getting nervous about what that inevitable question: "Mister Caven, is Santa real?" Of course, I have decades of popular culture on which to draw, from "Yes Virginia," to the Miracle on 34th Street. I've also been an uncle and a parent long enough to know how to skirt around the specifics of the issue in order to leave the myth intact.
But when you're dealing with three hundred kids a day, sometimes the burden of proof is just too much to bear. The easiest defense is to simply turn the question back on the kids themselves. "What do you think?" The responses vary wildly, starting with those who have long since put away such childish notions in favor of a rational and reasoned world view that doesn't include sleigh bells and a horde of toy-making elves. I believe a chief component in this lack of faith is connected to the disappearance of chimneys. If Santa is coming through a window or sneaking in the front door late at night, that's not magic, it's breaking and entering.
I am also wary of certain age groups. Third graders are much more wizened than their second grade counterparts, for example. That's why I was surprised when, last week, a pair of fourth graders began their debate, seemingly out of the blue: "No there isn't."
"Yes there is."
"Mister Caven, is there such a thing as Santa Claus?"
There it was out in the open. How was I going to enhance or deflate this discussion? I didn't have a chance to formulate my response before the next flurry.
"Like there's such a thing as reindeer, right?"
"There are so, aren't there Mister Caven?"
And now my path was clear, I walked over to the computer at which our young doubter was sitting and typed "picture of reindeer" in the search box, and pressed enter. There were more than twenty-million responses, and after flipping past a few artists' renderings, we found a photograph of a stately buck standing in the frozen tundra. The voice from behind me cried, "See? See? I toldja!"
There was nothing but a confused smirk as a reply. It was circumstantial evidence to be sure, but it planted that seed of doubt for another year. Thank you Al Gore.