One of my favorite Christmas prints is by local St. Louis artist Mary Engelbreit. It's a simple picture of Santa Claus, with the word Believe printed above.
Easier said than done, I know.
When money is tight and jobs are scarce and loved ones are ill, it can be difficult to believe that things will be okay. Sometimes, it can be difficult to believe that we can cope with the hardships that life keeps throwing at us.
If we are religious, it can be difficult to believe that going to church and trusting in a God who appears to have forsaken us is worthwhile.
Belief can be difficult to master.
"Faith," said Santa Claus in the classic Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street, "is believing in things when common sense tells you not to."
In Valentine Davies book from which the movie was adapted, the quote reads a little differently:
"Those who can accept nothing on faith will be forced to live a life dominated by doubt."
Common sense tells us that Santa Claus is a myth. As adults, we know that, in reality, there is no such person. And there are some parents who struggle to teach their children about a man who for all intensive purposes is a big fat lie.
Is it a lie to perpetuate the myth of Santa to our children?
I don't think so.
Santa Claus may not actually exist in the real world. But when we teach our children about him, what we're really teaching them is how to believe in things that we cannot see. We're teaching them that we can never know the complete truth of our existence, or understand all the wonders of our world. We're teaching them that there is much that we can never understand.
We're teaching them to imagine and to dream. We're teaching them that life is about so much more than we can perceive from our limited point of view. We're teaching them to believe in magic and generosity, and that the good in the world can always outshine the evil.
We're teaching them to choose a life of belief and optimism over a life of pessimism and doubt.
Last night, my six year-old put her first tooth under her pillow and went to sleep with visions of a magical tooth fairy who would come in the night. I might feel like I'm lying to her when I spin tales of this mysterious creature and then sneak in myself to stash the cash. But I don't.
Instead, I feel like I'm teaching that we live in a world where life is full of possibilities and anything can happen.
In a world where a fat guy in a red suit can fly through the sky in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. A world where a fairy can come in the night and leave money under your pillow. Where a heart that has grown heavy from the hardships of life can be healed. Where things will always get better.
I'm teaching her to believe.
And I'm also reminding myself.
Check out the Mary Engelbreit store online if you're looking for some neat Christmas gifts. She illustrates a variety of cards, calendars, posters, dishes, books, ornaments, etc. There used to be an ME store at the St. Louis Galleria (and a long, long time ago at Union Station), but I don't think there are any around town anymore. Her stuff is one-of-a-kind, though, so it's totally worth the shipping charges!