Berger’s Burg: Keep your cool if your child doubts Santa’s existence

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The four stages of life:

1. You believe in Santa Claus.

2. You do not believe in Santa Claus.

3. You are Santa Claus.

4. You look like Santa Claus.

In two short days, Christmas will merrily ring in. It is the time for children to listen for Santa Claus’ ho-ho-ho-ing. (Listen, if you had to work only one day a year, you would be ho-ho-ho-ing, too). This jolly elf will drive through the sky in a sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer and leave presents for the children, who have been taught to believe in his existence since 1822 by Clement C. Moore’s venerable poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” But how, when and where did the legend of Santa Claus begin? Professor Berger, a scholar from St. Nick U., is ready to supply the answer.

The character of Santa Claus was created, piecemeal, from a combination of characters and customs from different parts of the world. His origin can be traced from the story of St. Nicholas in fourth-century Asia Minor and through his introduction to the United States by the Dutch, who called him “Sinterklaas.” Since then, he has acquired not only a sleigh and eight reindeer, but also a red suit, jolly disposition and new name.

What do you call an unnatural fear of Santa Claus? Claus-trophobia.

Christmas is a time for holiday cheer and goodwill toward all. But, for many parents, it may be time —gulp — to face that dreaded question asked by their child: “Is Santa real?” Do not lose your cool. Simply discuss the inquiry thoughtfully, deliberately and steadfastly and, for heaven’s sake, do not rush out of the room in panic.

Disbelief in Santa doesn’t happen overnight. For most children, the process begins around age 7, but some kids continue to be believers until 12. It is important not to destroy your child’s conviction immediately. Gauge his readiness to let go by asking what he thinks about Santa Claus and how does he enter our home without a fireplace? If the child says, “Maybe he comes through the window,” it is not the right time to divulge. But if he gives reasons why he cannot be real, it is probably time to let the child in on the “secret.” Keep the Christmas spirit alive by explaining that he will get to play the role of Santa Claus for other people.

But in defense of believers young and old, belief, in general, can be a wondrous thing. Believe hard enough in a conviction and you can move the world. And, most importantly, you can move yourself. With the spirit of Christmas all around us, what better time is there to rekindle our beliefs? For to have no beliefs is to have no life. Take your beliefs into the world and make them work for you. And for all of us, believe and you will be beloved — just like Christmas and Santa Claus.

This Christmas column would not be complete until I mention everyone’s favorite Christmas story, O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” It was Christmas time. A newly married, penniless couple had no money to buy each other a holiday gift. The husband owned a pocketwatch which he decided to sell to buy his wife a comb for her beautiful long tresses. The wife, unaware of her husband’s intentions, cut her hair and sold it to buy her husband a chain for his watch. When the two presented their gifts to each other, they first cried, then laughed and finally hugged one another. They had given each other the greatest gift of all: love.

I will never forget the year I found out there was no Santa Claus. My parents could not console me — and neither could Gloria.

Before I conclude, I must thank all the readers who took the time to write and e-mail me with opinions, suggestions and warm wishes throughout the year — even those who were naughty. Keep them coming.

Readers, Gloria and I would be remiss if we failed to send you a gift you cannot exchange: our love. Add to that champagne wishes and caviar dreams, sprinkled over good health, joy, laughter, serenity and world peace.

A merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Contact Alex Berger at

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