Miracle on 34th Street and the legitimate existence of Santa Claus.
Last Christmas, my then seven-year-old nephew barely made it to the big day while still believing in the festally-zaftig man with the sleigh.
My nephew rides the bus to school, where many of life’s mysteries are introduced and dispelled. I’ve been tempted to reach out and tell him that I believe in Santa Claus more than I did when I was a kid. This is true: my belief couldn’t be greater now than at seven. Hold fast, young sir, I want to say. You’d be surprised.
My mom’s favorite Christmas movie is Miracle on 34th Street, which is turning seventy-five. She’s not a sentimental person, and Miracle is regarded as a sentimental movie. After all, it’s about an older gentleman who believes he is Santa Claus in the flesh. Kris Kringle is put on trial, a competency hearing that doubles as an adjudication of faith.
The clever trick of the film is that Edmund Gwenn’s Kris is legally vetted as Santa. The script is sharp and smart, but there’s a bigger, unsentimental, invaluable truth at play: Ideas and how they might encourage us to both behave and be have more significance than anything we might touch, taste, hear, or see.
As a kid, I looked at Santa Claus as a middle man. He brought the gifts I wanted, seemingly possessing the same copy of the same Sears catalog I had.
He cut a pleasing figure in Rankin/Bass Christmas specials, and anything that gets us to think about right vs. wrong and animates that often disused entity we call conscience, is to be welcomed. I think I picked up on that, too, in the inchoate fashion of a child.
Disabused of his existence—on the bus, no doubt—Christmas changed for me and then I had to keep a secret from my younger sisters. I experienced most of the wonder of what I had loved—the wonder, the waiting—through them.
I had become a Christmas spectator, rather than someone who was out there on the field, romping and tumbling and in the thick of everything that made it special.
Or so I thought. I watched Miracle on 34th Street every year, and it heartened me. It was pure Christmas, and a reminder in empirical form that there could be more to Santa than what so many children think of him. As I thought of him.
Somewhere along the adult line of my life, Christmas changed again, to a larger degree than when I went from a boy who wrote a list to a guy who lived at the North Pole—which was pretty much all you needed to put on the envelope—to a boy who didn’t.
I knew a lot of loneliness and pain now that I was older and had gone through what I’d gone through, but I still loved the season because that season is about hope, fellowship, the fostering of wellness.
That last bit takes so many forms. For instance: Helping a kid believe in Santa—the original way—for another year. Thanking your parents or parent for the happy Christmases they gave you growing up. Reaching out to an ex and telling them you’re happy they’re happy.