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DuBose: Real story behind aura of Santa Claus

My daughter says the darndest things.

“I think that’s Lizzie’s house,” she said, pointing out the window as we drove home from her school the other day. “We have a lot in common. We both like wolves (this was news to me, but OK), we both have blond hair and hazel eyes, and oh, I don’t believe in Santa Claus.” I’m not sure what Lizzie has to do with Santa, but I nearly hit a mailbox. Why, oh why does she always have to ambush me in the car?

“Since when do you not believe in Santa Claus? Does this have anything to do with the Tooth Fairy?” I asked, mildly perturbed. The Tooth Fairy kicked the bucket a few weeks ago (see Dec. 3 column, and since then, I’ve worried that Santa might be next on the chopping block. If this keeps up the Easter Bunny will fade into the ether. Criminy.

“No,” Holly replied, but I wasn’t so sure. What was I supposed to do when she put me on the spot and demanded to know if I was the Tooth Fairy? She even called me a “coward” when I stammered, so I caved. I have my pride to consider, after all. I may have given up the Tooth Fairy but I’m not sure I’m ready to part with Santa – even if Holly is.

“Good. You remember the story I’ve told you every year about Saint Nicholas – the real Santa – don’t you?” I watched in the rear-view mirror as she waved her hand, kicking my tired tale to the curb.

“Seriously,” she continued, “last year I didn’t tell you that I wanted a gel hair brush for Christmas, but I did. And Santa didn’t bring it. That proves he’s not real.” A ‘gel hairbrush’ is this clever thing that Holly has seen her friend Rachel’s mom use recently, that apparently dispenses styling gel. Which is great, except that it doesn’t (I finally resorted to calling Rachel’s mom Wednesday night after searching several stores to no avail). But a “gel-dispensing hairbrush” is on Holly’s Christmas list, and she has her heart set on that – and an iPod touch, but I digress. “Plus, Rachel is going to catch her parents on video this year.”

Terrific, I thought, as I pulled into the driveway and followed my persistent daughter into the house. I wonder if I have a duty to warn? I sat down on the couch where she’d already gotten busy with her homework and did my best to keep Santa from being thrown under the sleigh.

“So, Saint Nicholas. You know the story, right?”

“Sure,” she replied, rolling her eyes. “That’s the one about the three ghosts. No, wait, that’s ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ” she said, laughing.

“Haha, right. As a young man, Saint Nicholas grew up ...”

“Yeah, yeah, in a village with Tiny Tim, in ‘Candyland,’ ” she quipped. She was killing me.

“Not quite,” I teased. I reminded her of the story of a real man named Nicholas, born around 270 A.D. – in a village then called Patara in formerly Greek but now southern Turkish territory – to wealthy, devout Christian parents who died during his youth. Nicholas, then raised by monks, felt called to live simply and to share his wealth with the needy but preferred to do so without attracting attention. As the story goes, he climbed into the upstairs window of a poor man’s home late one night, where he left enough gold coins for three dowries so the man’s daughters could marry.

“He threw the coins into the stockings,” Holly chimed in. “They were hanging their stockings because they didn’t have a dryer.”

“Haha, right,” I replied. The coins landed in the stockings, which hung by the fire, and in their shoes, giving rise to ensuing traditions. Nicholas, who eventually was appointed the Bishop of Myra for his good works, was later dubbed “Saint Nicholas” after somehow surviving religious persecution for his Christian faith. During his life and, some would say, even after his death, Saint Nicholas, or “Santa,” as he came to be called by some cultures, purportedly came to the aid of numerous children and others in need, doing many kind and generous deeds in secret while expecting nothing in return.

When I was a child, my mother always told us that “Santa is the spirit of loving and giving in our hearts.” So how did I respond when Holly wondered if Santa was real?

“I sure hope so,” I said.

• Jennifer DuBose is a contributor for the Kane County Chronicle. She lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. She can be reached at


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