Stephen Tobolowsky on discovering that Santa isn’t real.

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

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

What to eat, drink, and think.
Dec. 13 2011 10:37 AM

The Santa Conspiracy

My first crisis of belief.

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I wrote Dwayne’s words in the margin of the picture out of fear that one day I may forget them. It had an unexpected effect. I looked at the photo of all of those 5-year-old faces standing in front of Jefferson Davis Elementary, surrounded by the words: “It is always easier to want to believe in something than to say it never was true.” It became a grim school motto.

Dwayne’s proverb warned about false prophets and the mechanism they use to enter our lives. His wisdom still shook me to the core—but then again, he was 6. I put the paper down on the little broken bedside table and turned out the light.

As I began to drift off, I had a passing thought: We often find things when we need them. Maybe all the scraps of paper Mom had saved over the years weren’t a product of her nuttiness at all but were meant for me to unearth every now and then as some sort of amulet of protection.


I sat up in the dark. I turned on the light and looked at the class picture again. Truth operates in an opposite curve from conspiracy. The further one gets from conspiracy the more preposterous it looks, while distance only gives the truth more clarity. I saw something new. Buried in Dwayne’s words: “It’s always easier to want to believe in something than it is to say it never was true”—was also hope. Dwayne was saying the ability to believe is always present, always available. Belief gives us a power to see beyond the obvious. In the face of loss or disappointment, it is the source of renewal and endurance, the foundation of the science of second chances.

I was momentarily startled by a night noise. Now I recognized it as the central heat kicking in. Knowledge is the ultimate protection against the dark. But I admit I laughed when I realized my first thought was to wonder how Eye the Monster was doing.

I lay back down and closed my eyes. In an instant I was with Dwayne about to cross the street on that cold afternoon before Christmas. He laughed and put his hand on my shoulder. We looked both ways and ran across the street to Daughtery’s Drugstore. I felt like I was in one of the good bedtime stories. I went to sleep and had pleasant dreams.