My career as a news reporter began at age five, when I informed my shocked kindergarten classmates that Santa Claus was not real. I had the scoop thanks to my older sister and brother. I don’t recall being dismayed when I learned about Santa—probably so eager to spread the news. I’m sure, however, that a number of parents would’ve cheerfully throttled me if I’d been within arm’s reach when their crestfallen children returned home from school that day.
Santa Claus, whether serious mythology or child’s fantasy, is pretty much universal. Our American version reportedly came from the Dutch “Sinterklaas.” The United Kingdom has Father Christmas, if you speak French it’s Pere Noel, there’s Hoteiosho from Japan, and of course, Saint Nicholas, a flesh-and-blood human of the fourth century. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra (located in modern-day Turkey), credited with numerous miracles including fantastic accounts of reviving people who’d been gruesomely murdered. The most credible event, say historians, and the one that connects him with Santa Claus, has to do with three young sisters whose father couldn’t afford dowries for their marriage. Prostitution was their only option. Legend has it that Nicholas anonymously tossed three bags of gold coins through their window, saving the young women from a life of degradation. One tradition has him tossing the coins down the chimney, thus we hang our stockings.
Our present-day image of Santa Claus is pretty much based on the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” published in 1823, attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. We know it as “The Night Before Christmas.” Band and choral leader Fred Waring recorded an enchanting musical version of the poem in the 1950s. Despite my atheistic view of Santa Claus, as a young woman I about wore that record out. My favorite Christmas movie is “Miracle on 34th Street,” in which the U.S. Postal Service proves Santa is real.
In our town, Santa’s sleigh is not led by Rudolph’s red nose, but the flashing blue lights of a police car. Then comes a diesel-powered pickup pulling a brilliantly lighted sleigh. Amplified Christmas music draws us to our doors and windows to see Santa waving and handing candy canes to children who brave the cold to run out and greet him. One Christmas, after my late husband’s paralyzing stroke, Santa’s sleigh paused in front of our house. Santa himself (who in another life was a business owner and president of the Chamber of Commerce) climbed out of the sleigh and delivered a candy cane to my husband in his wheelchair. This year, when I spotted the blue lights flashing through my kitchen window, I rushed to open the door and wave. Somehow our town has kept this tradition alive for at least a couple generations.
As a reporter, I made my share of errors and consequently published corrections. But that story I told back in kindergarten? It was the only time I could be accused, rightfully, of delivering fake news.
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