Why I Believe in Santa… and I’m Jewish!

Picture of my daddy (Paul Harvey Kussner) doing what he did best... Showing those he loved just how much he did!
Picture of my daddy (Paul Harvey Kussner) doing what he did best… Showing those he loved just how much he did!

“I’m not ready to stop believing in Santa Claus,” my 75-year-old father told me right before he passed away. “Daddy I think you are confused, you’re JEWISH!” I giggled. While my father was accepting of the fact that all his children had married out of the religion and therefore celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas, he himself remained very conservative in his Judaic ways making this whole “ Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” conversation bordering on the absurd. Yet, I was not shocked for towards the end of my father’s days these types of arbitrary remarks were not uncommon. But this time, it was different. What he said next would forever change my life.

Fast forward several months to the day my then 10 years old daughter Grace came home from school in tears. “What happened?” I asked while wrapping my arms around her in a protective embrace. She then proceeded to tell me about how the kids at school were talking about how their parents are the ones that move their Elf on the Shelves and she demanded to know if I too was part of that club. Honestly I was quite relieved that the jig was finally up as the stress level of trying to come up with new creative mischief for our tiny friend to get into was becoming too much. So I told her that it was just a tradition that some mom and dad came up with to get their naughty children to behave. I followed it up with, “Now that you know the truth you can be a part of this tradition. We can take turns each night moving him.” After the initial shock of my betrayal wore off, Grace excitedly got on board with this new idea.

Crisis averted… or so I thought. As if she was a heavyweight champion going in for the knock out, my girl came at me again, but this time with questions about the Jolly Guy in the red suit.

“Are you Santa? Is it you and daddy who really leave the presents? Do you fill the stockings? Please tell me the truth.”

My heart skipped a beat. I was not quite sure what to tell her. I wasn’t ready for her to stop believing. There is a sense of magic and innocence that goes along with the idea of Santa. I was angry at her classmates for taking this away. Yet I did not want to lie for I saw how hard that was for her when I finally came clean with the Elf. I was torn, at a real loss of what was the correct thing to do. It is times like this that I miss my father the most. He was my go to person, my sounding board, my voice of reason. I began to feel the all too frequent lump in my throat whenever I thought of my recently departed father. His lost was extremely hard on me, still is if we are being honest.

I was fighting to keep my composure when all the sudden my conversation with my father I had months before came back to me. No longer able to hide it, I started to cry. My girl became very concerned about me and somehow intuitively knew. “You are thinking about Grandpa, aren’t you?” she asked. I shook my head yes and then motioned for her to come sit on my lap. I laced my fingers around hers and took a breath and then recalled the conversation I had with my father.

“I’m not ready to stop believing in Santa Claus,” Grandpa told me over the phone right before he passed away. “Daddy I think you are confused, you’re JEWISH!” I giggled. She laughed too and that sound lifted my heart and spirit and allowed me to continue on.

Then Grandpa said, “What the world needs is for us all to believe in Santa Claus, and yes I am a Jewish man saying that. But you see Santa to me is not a religion at all. Santa Claus is not even about a guy in a red suit that brings presents on Christmas Eve. Santa represents the spirit of giving, joy, love and all that is good in the world. Santa Claus represents HOPE for what can be and for what the future has in store for us.”

I then tilted her face up to mine and continued, “ It doesn’t matter how the presents get under the tree, what matters is that we believe in the spirit of giving, in joy, love and all that is good in the world. Santa is about HOPE for what can be. So is Santa real… Grandpa thought so, and he was Jewish.”

She looked up at me with her big brown eyes and quietly asked me, “But do you believe Mama? Do you believe in Santa?”

Then I shared with her something that no one knew. I told her how at my father’s funeral I slipped into his casket a piece of paper and on it I had written these words…
“I’m not ready to stop believing in Santa either daddy!”

“Do I believe in Santa, Grace? I made a decision to never stop believing the day I wrote those words on that piece of paper!” I told my daughter. Somehow she got it, she understood.

Together we sat there silently, each of us lost in our own thoughts about a man who even though he was Jewish embraced the true meaning of the holidays. A man, who taught me that believing in all that is good in the world, is a choice. A man, who even in his death gave us HOPE.

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