What Learning That Santa Isn’t Real Taught Me About Faith

What to eat, drink, buy, and think during that special time of year
Dec. 7 2013 7:18 AM

The Santa Conspiracy

My first crisis of belief.

(Continued from Page 2)

Mom’s passing of the buck to Santa worked for a while, or at least until I was 5 ½ and in first grade. My nagging doubts troubled me deeply. I had no one to talk to about it—until one afternoon after school right before the Christmas holidays.

It was a sunny, cold December day. I was heading over to Daugherty’s Drugstore to read comic books before I walked the half-mile home. I heard a classmate call out, “Hey Stephen, where you going?” I turned around and to my surprise it was Dwayne. I usually didn’t play with Dwayne. In fact this was the only time in my life I spoke to him one-on-one. He didn’t live in our neighborhood. He was a very special kid. He had already turned 6, and I imagined him to be a much wiser fellow than I. He was handsome. He always made good grades. The teachers liked him. He never played the bongos on his desk or got into trouble. He was awarded “Best Citizen” of the entire first grade. He was given a blue ribbon by our school. Today, he was wearing his ribbon, pinned on his sweater, and it was flapping in the cold wind. I was shocked when he joined me. Frankly, I was a little starstruck.

As we walked, Dwayne asked me if I was looking forward to Christmas. I gave him an enthusiastic but highly conflicted, “Sure.” Dwayne paused, looked off in the distance, and then turned back to me and said very seriously that he believed in Christmas but wasn’t sure he still believed in Santa.

A fellow skeptic! I didn’t tell him about the presents under the dining room table; I just swallowed hard and told him I was on the fence about Santa, too. Dwayne nodded respectfully and said, “Yeah, it’s hard not to be.” I mentioned that last year I thought I heard something on the roof. It could have been a sleigh.

“Do you have a chimney?” said Dwayne.



Dwayne shook his head, “Well, if you don’t have a chimney, Santa won’t stop on the roof. It was probably a squirrel.”

“Probably,” I said. We stopped at the curb. Dwayne looked both ways for approaching traffic. I blurted out, “Dwayne, I just really want to believe in Santa.”

Dwayne turned to me and put his hand on my shoulder, “I know, Stephen. Me, too. But it’s always easier to want to believe in something than it is to say it never was true.”

I was staggered by the profundity of the remark.

Dwayne looked at the deserted playground for a moment and then back to me, “Don’t get me wrong, I love Santa, but this will probably be the last year I believe.”

I’ve always remembered this exchange. For years I thought it was because it was the only real talk I ever had about Santa Crisis. But as I look back, it was more likely memorable because it was my first crisis of belief.

That was 50 years ago and many crises of belief have come and gone. Last year, around Christmas time, I went back to Dallas. It was not for anything as festive as enjoying the holiday season under the old mahogany table. I came because it was near the anniversary of my mother’s passing, always a hard time for my family. A trip back home would give me a chance to see Dad, reminisce with my brother and sister, and give me another opportunity to sleep in my old unsleepable bed. The very same one I had as a child. When that salesman told Mom and Dad my bed would last a lifetime, they took him at his word.

A trip to Dallas also holds the potential of discovery in an archaeological way. Over the years Mom saved everything and tucked it all in the most improbable places for safekeeping. After she passed away we became painfully aware she never left a map.

Sure enough, on this visit, I found an old manila envelope at the bottom of my underwear drawer under a pair of pajamas last worn when I was in junior high school. Inside the envelope was an edition of my elementary school newspaper: the Jefferson Davis News.


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

What Hillary Clinton’s Iowa Remarks Reveal About Her 2016 Fears

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter


Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.