by Alexander McCall Smith, from Parade Magazine
Some of us were born in places that no longer are. In my case, it was a country called Southern Rhodesia. You will not find it on a map today, but you will find Zimbabwe, which is what it became. There it is, in the middle of Africa, a part of the world that, for all its trials, is still one of the most beautiful. Christmas there was at the hottest time of the year. As a child, I remember being puzzled by many of the images of Christmas that we saw in books and magazines. Christmas was all about winter: fields of snow, holly wreaths, carolers gathered around warming fires. This all seemed very exotic and exciting and added to the magic of what happened on the great day itself. We went to church and sang those carols with all their wintry imagery, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and so on, more snow and ice. But before we went to the Christmas service, we’d undergo the ritual of waiting outside the closed door of the living room, all of us children bursting with excitement. At exactly six o’clock, the door would be opened and we would go in to see if Santa—or Father Christmas, as we knew him, a name I still marginally prefer—had stopped by. He always had, and he signified his presence by eating the cookie and drinking the glass of milk that we had left for him by the fireplace. Proof! There it was—crumbs on the floor and an empty glass. How could anyone doubt his existence? And I was not a doubter. Additional evidence was before my eyes in the shape of a pillowcase full of presents. Quite remarkably, they were often the things I had expressed a desire to have. What a mind reader he was! Take Bill O'Reilly's Holiday Quiz!I stopped believing in Santa when I was 7, and I vividly recall the precise circumstances those many years ago when my belief came to an end. All of us remember where we were when important things happened. Such memories are curious nuggets amongst the dark furniture of our minds, amongst the vague images and associations that make up our memory of things that happened to us a long time ago. We were preparing for a holiday party a few days before Christmas itself. I knew that my father was due to appear as Santa, a role that he played well, in spite of being too tall and thin to be entirely convincing. But he sportingly donned the classic red outfit, so hot and inappropriate to African conditions, and stuck the cotton-wool beard to his chin. It was evening, and we were standing under a great night sky almost white with stars, limitless constellations soaring and dipping against a background of dark velvet. Suddenly my father turned to me and said, “You don’t believe in Father Christmas anymore, do you?” I froze. I stood quite still, looking up at the evening sky. A shooting star flashed across the heavens. It did. I remember it to this day, because it seemed like a portent. I was in an agony of indecision. If I said, “No, I do not believe,” then what would happen to all the presents I was hoping to get? It might be, you see, that Santa was listening to us and would mark my card accordingly: “No longer believes in me—no presents this year.” Reason, the rational part of me, won out, and I said, “No, I no longer believe.” The heavens did not fall. No sleigh pulled by wounded reindeer slewed out of control in the sky above. Nothing happened. The world went on, as it always does, after all those small moments when something magical or mysterious is denied or lost. There is a moment in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan when the audience is invited to revive the dying fairy Tinkerbell and told, “If you believe in fairies, clap your hands.” And every time, the theater breaks into sustained applause. That is not to suggest there are theaters full of seriously deluded people. What it does tell us is that there are times when we need to pretend to believe in things we know not to be true. We know that the world is a place of suffering and hardship, and we know, too, that justice and kindness and love and such things will not always prevail against these hard realities. Myths help us to get by. The day they all die and we tell our children exactly how things are, the world will be a poorer, less enchanted place. So don’t be ashamed to clap your hands at Peter Pan or act as if Santa exists. He stands for kindness and generosity, and those things are alive and will continue to be alive—as long as we believe in them. Alexander McCall Smith is the best-selling author of the “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series. His newest novel is “La’s Orchestra Saves the World.”
Why we should all believe in Santa Claus. Read Alexander McCall's heartwarming story and cheer up. Then write a letter to Santa.