Less than a week before Christmas in 2004, my wife and I were forced to face that awful decision that all parents who celebrate the holiday must: Whether To Tell Or Not. Having handled "The Question" with my son two years earlier and feeling relatively prepared, I offered my daughter the same gentle story as I had told him.
She didn't take it well.
My daughter bellowed out, "You lied!" and I felt awful — and here it was, a few days before Christmas.
Luckily for me, she sheepishly came to me on the 23rd and asked if she could still, you know, leave milk and cookies out? She had always done so in the past, and Santa had always left a thank-you note.
This was the thank-you note that year, the last one we wrote.
"This may be the last time I write to you, but it will not be the last time that you hear from me. Now, besides my home at the North Pole, I will live in your heart, and you will hear from me as often as you wish. Now, I live in you.
"There is nothing more real than I am. I have lived for over 1,600 years, and I will always live as long as there are children who are loved and parents who love them. I can be on all seven continents on the same night — at the same time even — as long as there are families who share a bond all year long that crystallizes — just like water into a snowflake — each Christmas. Although some children lacked the care to nurture me in them, although some are rude enough to 'expose' me to others, not a one of them can disprove my existence. They may doubt me — but they cannot prove I do not exist. Although you cannot see me, you cannot ignore my presence when you feel me. I am and will always be real.
"Sixteen-hundred years is a long time. Two thousand and four is even longer. As the realization that I exist within the love of your mom and dad allows, I make room for an even older story, and this one will never evaporate. It is from this beginning that my identity was spawned. The love of a single baby, born all those years ago on Christmas Day, gave body to kindness. That body is pictured with a white beard and is fat and jolly, but that love is as different as there are different people. Some are old, some are young, some are dark skinned, some are light. They all possess a piece of the love that baby instilled in the world. Although you may now be sad that the one body of Santa seems temporarily less real to you, you can also now stand back and look for the baby's love — and even the Santa's kindness — in all of your family, your friends and actually every person you meet.
"Always believe in Christmas because if you forget the baby and Rudolph and the elves and wishes, you will have lost your piece of that love that was designed to live in you alone forever. Continue to leave cookies out for me knowing that they will taste all the sweeter to those who eat them because you tell them that you recognize me in them. Most of all, keep me alive enough in your heart so that, when the day comes that you no longer read the notes but write them, you will still hear my voice in your heart to share with those young minds that you love too.
"Merry Christmas every day of the year, Shelby. I love you tonight and I will love you always,
—Jim Kuhlman is an art teacher at XX school in Baltimore County.