Beverly Beckham

The truth is, we need Santa

By Beverly Beckham
Globe Columnist / December 20, 2009

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Last week in Parade magazine, best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith wrote about how his father told him when he was just 7 years old that Santa Claus isn’t real.

They were outdoors looking at the stars. “You don’t believe in Father Christmas anymore, do you?’’ his father asked. And though he did believe and still wanted to believe, the boy said no.

“All of us remember where we were when important things happened,’’ he mused. And I thought, “You’re right. I remember exactly where I was when I questioned the existence of Santa.’’

I was in sixth grade. I wore a bra. My best friend Rose and I were spending all our spare time trying to figure out how babies were made. And yet I still believed in Santa Claus.

My friends tried to reason with me. Rose, who was the smartest kid in class, insisted that Santa was a myth. “Really, Beverly. Think about it. How could one person deliver gifts to every child in the entire world in a single night?’’ But I said, “No, Rose. You’re wrong. My mother told me that Santa is real, and my mother would never lie to me.’’

Ann Marie Tantillo, Janet Butler, Judy Bozan, and Chicky Fleming, who were also in sixth grade, said the same thing. There is no Santa. Your mother is wrong. She just doesn’t want to tell you. Even Michelle Lyons, who was only in fifth grade, agreed.

But I stuck to my guns. I believed my mother. Besides, I’d seen Santa Claus just the year before.

It was Christmas Eve, and I’d been asleep and something woke me. I got out of bed, looked out the window, and there was Santa and his sleigh landing on the roof of Ann Marie’s house. I heard bells. I saw the reindeer and the huge red sleigh filled with presents.

I told everyone.

Rose said it was mirage like people lost in a desert have when they’re thirsty. “They want water so much that their minds invent it. Your mind invented this.’’ Ann Marie and Janet and Judy and Chicky said I was making it all up.

But my mother said, “See! I told you he’s real.’’

It’s not easy being in sixth grade and wearing a bra and believing in Santa. If I’d had siblings, they might have set me straight. But it was just my mother, my father, and me.

I hatched a plan.

My mother and I were in the parking lot of St. Bernadette’s. We were on our way to 11:30 Mass. My father was at work. There was snow on the ground. It was sunny and cold. My mother was wearing a pretty black hat. She was putting on gloves. All of us remember where we were when important things happened.

“I have to ask you again, Mom. Is Santa real?’’

It was trap. She had to tell the truth because if she lied, she couldn’t go to Communion. And that would be as telling as words.

Most kids cry when they find out that Santa doesn’t exist. I didn’t get a chance because my mother crumpled like wet papier-mâché, as if she too were hearing the truth for the first time.

“I am so sorry,’’ she said over and over. And she was, not for pretending that Santa was real, but because the jig was up, because I was growing up.

“Myths help us to get by,’’ McCall Smith wrote in his essay. “The day they all die and we tell our children exactly how things are, the world will be a poorer, less enchanted place.’’

My mother and I went to church and Communion and then home. I called Rose. “I told you,’’ she said. “I told you,’’ my other friends echoed.

My mother continued all of her life to sign her Christmas gifts to me, “Love, Santa.’’ She believed in enchantment and strove to keep it. It’s what we all do every Christmas: We invent a better world.

Beverly Beckham can be reached at bevbeckham@