Here’s a nice short story I read over at The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe Forums. I know it’s a bit late, but I had to ask permission from the author to repost the story here. Anyway, better late than never! 🙂
Carol was nine years old when she stopped believing in him.
All her life, she was encouraged to believe, by people whose opinion she trusted. Those who didn’t believe were always cast as Grinches and Scrooges. No one liked them. And they surely would come around someday anyway.
But her curiosity eventually overwhelmed her credulity. She noticed that all children, naughty and nice, did equally well year after year. She wondered how he could truly be in all parts of the Earth in one evening, and even the most confident explanations offered her little satisfaction.
She saw images resembling him and people dressed as they imagined he would dress, but never recalled seeing the real man. She went through the motions of speaking to him, never being sure if he got the message. Or if it mattered that he did anyway.
One quiet snowy morning, Carol approached Mother in the laundry room, and firmly put the question to her. Mother failed to suppress a mildly surprised expression, then sighed and finished emptying the drier. She hoisted the basket and said with a bit of a grunt,
“What do you think? Do you believe in him?”
“Um…I don’t know. Maybe.”
Carol thought for a second more. “Probably not, I guess.”
“I think you might be right,” said Mother as she led Carol into the family room, sat on the couch, and began folding towels. Carol rested her crossed arms on the overstuffed arm of the couch, and her chin on her arms. Mother’s voice shook a bit when she said, “I’m sorry, honey.”
“That’s okay. I don’t mind.”
Carol wanted her mother to feel less sorry. But she felt compelled to ask:
“Why do so many people believe in him?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Because he brings us joy.”
“Can’t we be happy without him? Like because we’re with our families?”
“Sure, sure we can. Somehow this all just started and we kind of go along with it. He’s not what this holiday is all about, anyway.”
“That’s right. People were celebrating this season long before he came along. So you can keep on enjoying Christmas without him if you want.”
Carol thought for another few seconds. “I’d like that.”
Mother smiled. “Good. I would too. Just don’t tell your brother just yet.”
“Because he isn’t ready yet.”
“But isn’t that lying?”
“Did I ever tell you what to believe?”
“I tried not to. And I never told your brother either. Just as you did, he believes what he has heard from friends and television and whatever else. But like you, he’ll get smart. You have to let him do it himself. You should be proud that you came to me. How do you think you’d feel if I suddenly came to you and said he’s not real?”
“I’d feel bad.”
“Okay, then.” Mother was down to the bottom of the basket, where the socks and boxer shorts were tangled together.
Things were quiet for a while and Carol didn’t know why, but she grew slightly upset. She didn’t know it herself, but she was just a little angry. And she even missed him a little, fictitious as he was.
“Why do we let people believe a lie? Why don’t the people who know tell the people who don’t know? Then no one has to believe the lie. And no one has to find out later that they were wrong for so long. Oh, and think of all the money we’d save. And all the time we spend talking about him and making TV shows and singing about him.” Then she recalled some conversations she had witnessed between two grown-ups. “And fighting over him.”
That was a tough question for Mother.
“Well, I guess you could say there are things that are real and things that make you feel good. Sometimes people want to hold on to something that makes them comfortable, and they’re afraid of what’s real.”
“But doesn’t knowing what’s real make people happy?”
“It does make them grown-up, but it doesn’t always make them happy. Are you happy to know the truth?”
“I don’t know.”
“But do you wish you didn’t know?”
“Then I’ll be happy for you.”
The conversation was getting difficult for Carol. She wordlessly straightened her back and trotted to her room, where she opened a book and began to read.
Full credit goes to T. Azimuth Schwitters.