Is Santa real? Yes.
And so it comes one December day, a word no parent wants to hear: Doubt.
Doubt in the Christmas tales told to us since we were old enough to wobble. Doubt in the feasibility of reindeer who fly. Doubt in the physics of a large man navigating a narrow chimney.
Doubt, sadly enough, in Santa Claus.
It’s as inevitable as cold winds in winter. Little minds expand and the world around them grows. Doubt creeps in — unfairly, unjustly — no matter how hard those growing minds fight to hold it back.
That’s why for many years now, I have taken a moment away from the noisy grown-up news and nuisances of the day to confront a nervous question I know gets asked: Is Santa Claus real?
Lest I be accused of stalling, I’ll cut to the chase: Yes. Santa is as real as the nerves any child feels questioning his existence.
I have not seen him, and don’t ever expect I will. He’s tricky, and not subject to the standard rules of existence and confirmation we normally follow.
Can we see him? No.
Can we hear him? Not generally, aside from an occasional jingle or two.
Can we reach out and touch him? Afraid not. That’s tough to do without seeing what you reach for.
Santa won’t be caught, sized up, sniffed or snooped by our senses. His existence can be confirmed only by our sense of belief.
That may seem unfair, or even a bit hard, but many of the best things in life are things we believe in but can’t see. Like love. Or spirituality. Happiness. The waves of sound that hit your ears when music plays.
We don’t demand absolute proof of everything. Some things we just accept on faith. That doesn’t make us gullible. It makes us human. Besides, why waste time questioning something inherently good?
I won’t pretend I can explain the ins and outs of a being like Santa Claus. Is he a spirit? Is he magical? Does he have time for bathroom breaks on his global Christmas Eve run?
We won’t get answers to those questions. But do they really matter? Good, I posit, is good.
Trying to understand Santa Claus is like trying to understand the invisible Wi-Fi signals around us that can carry a photo of a newborn family member from a relative in California to our phone in Chicago.
I don’t know how any of that works, but I’m awfully glad it does. So perhaps that’s good enough.
We don’t need to question all things that bring joy.
There are children in the Washington Park neighborhood on the South Side who will get lovely toys for Christmas this year because a local organization ran a toy drive and people from across the city heard about it and chipped in to help. I don’t need to know why anyone donated money to help strangers. I just know it’s a good thing, and I’m glad it happened.
There are doctors and nurses across the city and across the country and around the world who have worked painfully long hours since the start of the coronavirus pandemic —helping people, caring for people, being present, doing more than anyone would ever have asked of them. What inspired them to do it? I can’t know for sure. But I’m endlessly grateful, and we’re all so lucky they did.
Earlier this year, an off-duty Cicero firefighter raced into a burning building—into conditions his chief said would be “pretty much unbearable”—and rescued two men from the second floor. Cicero Fire Department Lt. Brian Kulaga had to crawl on his stomach to get to the men, and he did, and he saved their lives. Why? I don’t know if even he could fully explain it, and what difference would the reason make anyway? It was a remarkable act of goodwill, and again, I’m glad he did it.
There is good all around us, even in times when bad tries to swirl in and obscure our view. One person stops to help another carry groceries. A neighbor rakes a sick neighbor’s leaves. A tired parent takes time to calmly answer a child’s earnest and reasonable questions about Santa Claus.
We need goodness that can’t necessarily be explained. We need, sometimes, for good things to just be good things, nothing more, nothing less.
The existence of Santa Claus—the joy he brings, the excitement he stirs up, the merriment he inspires—is a profoundly good thing.
And that’s why every Christmas Eve since I was a child, I have made it a point to step outside alone and spend a moment looking up at the stars, hoping for a lighting-quick flash of light, listening for the faint jingle of a far-off bell.
I’m 51 now. I will make that solitary trip outside again this year, and every year to come. Because I believe in something fundamentally good.
I believe in Santa Claus.
Rex Huppke is a columnist for The Chicago Tribune.