Who is Santa? Some would say he is a cheerful person who visits once a year and doesn't overstay his welcome. He leaves his pets outside and always comes with presents. In short, a welcome annual visitor!
A version of Santa has survived the test of time in nearly every culture across the globe - UK: Father Christmas; Italy: Babbo Natale; France: Pere Noel; Russia: Ded Moroz; and Chile: Viejo Pascuero. And there are as many names as there are countries.
Some align the tradition with the religious aspect of Christmas Day. For some it is a more secular mid-winter holiday. And for others it is merely a day off work recovering from a month-long spending spree.
Every year, parents face the challenge of trying to explain the existence of Santa. It is never an easy task. Why? What does the idea of no Santa mean to children? Why is it a sad conversation? The presents would still come. The tree and lights would remain. Why, then, is it so upsetting? And is it true? No Santa, really?
Who is Santa? Why is the story so relatively consistent around the world? What is the common thread? Why does the image of Santa continue from generation to generation?
Thoughts of hope, compassion, generosity, happiness, tradition, recognition for good deeds, inspiration for the future - Santa sees it all.
Don't we all want recognition for the good we do all year? Isn't it nice to think that those acts of kindness won't go unnoticed? That family and friends are spending their days thinking of something special to do for us just because they love and care?
The knowledge that even during the darkest time of year, there is a bright spot, a paternal sense of security that everything will be OK, that someone notices your sacrifices and rewards you for them, that all of the family squabbles are temporarily set aside, replaced by love, appreciation and giving.
Of course, they love you all year, and the gift of time and presents is valued always. But how often do we intend to do something nice for someone and time just slips away and it never gets done? The holidays allow us a very specific time for doing those things that allow us to show our appreciation for all that we have and to share that with those who have so little. One day a year, dedicated to giving.
Why does Santa live on? Because hope lives on.
When we tell a child there is no Santa, for many it means there is no hope, there is no love.
Why does a child at age 10, who clearly knows that a fat man in a red suit doesn't really come down the chimney every year, still look so brokenhearted at the thought that Santa doesn't exist? Maybe it's because in every child's heart, they know that the spirit of Santa lives eternally.
It's not about the bearded man sliding down the chimney, flying deer or elves making toys. What Christmas is truly about, whether religious or secular, is love. No child will accept the idea that on this very special day celebrated across the globe, love does not exist.
Santa is a hero to millions of people because he represents the good we strive for, the desire to help those in need and the opportunity to show our appreciation to those we love.
Santa exists to remind us of our better selves. Santa lives in each of us.
The next time you hear someone declare that there is no Santa, just smile and remember that they simply haven't recognized the hero within themselves, the Santa that lives in us all.
Jacqueline Cartier, who has more than 25 years of political communications experience and is the president and CEO of Winning Images, recently moved back to Eagle-Vail from Washington, D.C. She can be reached by email at WinningImages.Cartier
@gmail.com or by phone at 202-271-4165. Visit her website at www.winningimages