Monday, October 24, 2011



As she was leaving the office, she asked my advice:

"What should I tell my boys about Santa Claus?"

Spock-like (Mr. not Dr.) my left eyebrow rose and I asked for clarification. It was clear that her boys, eight, six and two, were asking if Santa is "real".

I took her back into the exam room and I carefully told her to tell them the truth, that of course, Santa is real. She was shocked that her Jewish doctor would make that claim.

I asked if she had read her boys "The Real Tooth Fairy". She never heard of it and I suggested she read it to the boys.

I know her to be a devout Christian so I asked her if she believed in God. And I asked, "Is God an old man with a long white beard who sits on a throne in heaven?"

That, I said, was "pediatric theology", a metaphorical description of an incomprehensible unknown. Yet we ascribe attributes and miracles to God.

Santa can be the joy of gifting, of sharing, of simple laughter, and of family: of caring and self-less joy. Santa can be a metaphor and symbol for so much good. Santa is real if we so choose.

She got the message.

I suggested that the older boys were old enough to begin to understand the difference between icons/symbols/metaphor and physical manifestations.

And then I shared my grief that a real Santa had recently died.

Bob was tall and round, with white hair, a long white beard, and a deep and resonant laugh. He had a gift of playfulness and joy and generosity. At this time of year he wore a red suit with jingling bells and personified the metaphor of Santa. He made everyone smile widely and filled hearts with warmth and joy. He died recently, and I miss that man. But Santa is still real.

After she reads them about "The Real Tooth Fairy" she can have a discussion about the REAL Santa. The eight-year-old may "get it" and the six-year-old will wonder. The two-year-old can wait for Santa to come and eat the Christmas cookies and milk.

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