Holiday tale: A child’s wonder
I grew up in a Philadelphia minister’s family. I could not escape any holiday season because I grew up in a parsonage connected to the sanctuary. I was trapped.
When you grow up in and surrounded by a church, you learn that what people say they believe and how they sometimes act are not the same. I became naturally skeptical of the temporary glow of the Christmas season, knowing that soon after December 25 people would return to their typically bah humbug behaviors.
I was a determined skeptic. My target was to prove Santa a fake.
It started when my mother took me to see Santa at a downtown department store. As I sat on his lap, I pulled on his white beard hoping to reveal he was fake news.
The problem was that it was a real beard and all Santa could do was say ouch and a low “ho, ho, ho” and push me away.
But I was not defeated in unmasking this elf.
Growing up, it was the family custom on Christmas eve for Santa to come to the parsonage door and leave presents behind.
After a few years, I became convinced that Santa was really my father, his laughter slightly British, like my father.
I planned ahead. One Christmas I asked for a fingerprint kit, so I could dust the fire place and get fingerprints.
I was a curious, devious kid and waited an entire year to use the kit on the next Christmas eve.
On Christmas morning, I rushed downstairs to examine any prints but there were none. My father lurked nearby and smiled. “That elf is a smart old man,” he said laughing.
“You can’t trip him up that easily.”
I had to wait another year. This time I grew more devious.
I waited for Santa to come to our door on Christmas Eve. I wanted to out my father as the jolly elf.
When Santa arrived at the front door I called upstairs to my father, who each year claimed to be in his office working on a sermon. I knew I had him.
Let me just say from the testimony of eyewitnesses ( my mother and a sister) that when my father came downstairs, my eyes grew larger, and I turned my head back and forth to see him and the Santa at my front door, who by now was really bellowing out his “ho, ho, ho,” and handing me a bag of candy.
I was stunned into silence and soon questioning my own skepticism.
I had a few more good years when I didn’t pull at Santa’s beard.
I suspended my doubts and just enjoyed the warmth of the season, the gift giving and singing and the sounds and smells of Christmas.
There would be time enough later to doubt.
The philosopher Aristotle said that philosophy begins in wonder.
I would add it sometimes ends in doubt.
But what I learned as a child still helps me realize today that not every truth is scientific, that sometimes truth is about the lure of stories and fables and myths that take us into imaginative realms where reason refuses to go.
Just enjoy the wonder of it all.
( Oh, reader alert: the “Santa” at the door was a neighbor my father had arranged to do so).
What I learned as a child still helps me realize today that not every truth is scientific, that sometimes truth is about the lure of stories and fables and myths that take us into imaginative realms where reason refuses to go.