Questions

Is Santa Real? A Librarian's Dilemma

In my personal life, I don't touch this question with a 10-foot pole. But when I am asked this question as a librarian; I cannot deflect. The child is asking me as a trusted professional for an accurate and factual answer. Furthermore I am obligated to provide reliable resources to justify my answer. And herein lies my dilemma; I am supposed to affirm or deny the “realness” of a “person” whose very existence is based on faith! The potential answer to this question is as dangerous as a child asking me if Jesus Christ is “real.” Now before you guffaw or laugh at me, I understand  Jesus and Santa are not the same. 

But just like everyone doesn't share the same beliefs about Jesus, everyone doesn't share a universal belief in Santa. Furthermore there are many adults who would not appreciate my answering this question contrary to their beliefs especially considering I am working in a professional capacity.   As a result, confirming or denying the existence of Santa (a concept totally based on faith) as a librarian, a person who is relied on to provide factual information, is a slippery slope.

I’m sure by now you are asking me, how is the belief of Santa based on faith? Well think about it, a child raised with a religious background has a belief system instilled in them that it is possible for the impossible to occur. So it is not unreasonable for them to believe in Santa. Here are a few comparisons as examples using Christianity: 

  • Santa, through Christmas miracles travels through the space/time continuum, to deliver presents to children via flying reindeer. Additionally, he defies the laws of matter and gravity by sliding up and down chimney flutes to gain access to houses. Jesus' birth defied the laws of biology with a virgin birth, (if you believe the biblical text) and he lives his life defying gravity by walking on water, changing the molecular composition of water into fermented fruit juice, and eliminating many medical illnesses. 
  • Santa has elves to help him. Jesus has angels to help him. Nobody has ever seen either elves or angels in a tangible form. 

So understanding that it is possible for a child to believe in miracles, using scientific reasoning to dispute or confirm the existence of Santa is counter-productive.  Of course a “safe" answer is to  provide books about St. Nicholas and his charitable works and ignore the whole North Pole, reindeer, elves part.  But what if the child is unsatisfied with my answer? What if they specifically want to know about Santa, Dancer , Prancer and them?   I’m once again stuck.

And what about the child who asks this question, who are not raised in a house of Christian faith?  Explaining how the historical St. Nicholas became a magical Santa is complicated. Because again I have to answer the question: "Is Santa real?" without the religious construct.  What can I say?   I can attempt to answer the question, but again any answer I give may directly conflict with a family’s belief system.

Am I saying Santa is a religious thing?  No of course not!  But I treat the topic of Santa with the same respect I treat religion.  And out of respect, I cannot, will not, knowingly conflict a belief system.  So what do I say when asked? Well my answer is not perfect, but is goes something like this:

“Believing in Santa is a personal decision. He means different things to different people. It is up to you to decide if you want to believe in him (or not,) and how you want to express your beliefs. Remember the important thing is not if you believe in Santa (or not,) but to respect the choices of others who do not share your values. Just as you wouldn’t tell your friend they are wrong because you do not like the same foods, or enjoy the same movies, you cannot disrespect your friend’s choices regarding Santa.

At the end of the day, this may be a bad answer, a deflection, or a cop-out, but it’s the best that I can do.  

Q&A: Patrons ask; librarians answer: Or, occasionally – Young patrons gawp; librarians guess.

Q: My child is too shy to ask questions. I want him to be confident, and to ask for what he needs. How do I get him to ask you questions himself? Graphic from the ALA; National Library Week Logo - Lives change @ your library

A: Yes, it's our job – parents, caregivers, and librarians, working together – to model the interactions that we'd like young people to conduct independently someday. Your child is learning a million tiny things by simply observing you as you conduct yourself daily. With very little conscious effort, he's learning by watching what you do.

When you bring a young person to the library, show him (you may not need to tell him) how you wait your turn, make a friendly greeting, ask a question, clarify if we're on the right track or not, and thank the staff person for the help you received.

Once your child has observed this several times, pick an unhurried day and ask him if he's ready to try it on his own. Some kids are bold and need very little prompting. Others want to know it will go smoothly before they even try. Many kids start, and then get stuck and need a little help. Eventually, we learn to speak up on our own behalf.

The interaction below is NOT ideal! Sometimes the librarian has a line of people waiting. However, I'm sharing it because it illustrates something not everyone realizes: The librarian is friendly. She or he is going to do whatever she or he can to get what information or reading material you need or want.

You can play “library” at home or in the car, and pretend/practice the question-and-answer process. Then come by and give it a try. We love talking to kids about what they're reading and helping them find information.

One afternoon at the library:

A mother and her son enter the library, and walk toward the Children's Reference Desk. They wait for the person ahead of them in line to finish, and then approach the Children's Librarian.

MOM (to Librarian): Hello! We'd like a little help.

MOM (to child): Tell the librarian what you need.

KID: No, you tell her.

MOM: No, go on. You tell her!

KID: No, no, no. I won't. You have to.

MOM: Go ahead and ask your question. Look, it's your turn now.

KID: You ask her!

Librarian: Okay, okay, I'll ask you!

(Kid is surprised & looks directly at Librarian for the first time)

Librarian: Okay, let's see...You have a question, right?

KID: (quietly) Yes.

Librarian: Let me see...Do you need something at the library?

KID: Yes.

Librarian: Okay, I'm going to guess. Is it a book?

KID: Yes!

Librarian: Okay, a book. That's good. We have lots of books. Hmm...Is this a book for your own fun, or is this for a school assignment?

KID: For school.

Librarian: Okay, for school. ...and what grade are you in?

KID: First.

Librarian: Okay, a book for a school assignment for first grade. That narrows it down....but I need more information. Are you going to tell me, or should I guess?

KID: You guess!

Librarian: Okay (rubbing my face, thinking...) ...Does this assignment have to do with the Phases of the Moon?

KID: No!

MOM: Just tell her, don't make her guess!

KID: (looking at her like she is crazy, because obviously this could be fun)

Librarian: ...Is the assignment about an Animal?

KID: No!

Librarian: Ummm...Is the assignment about...The Revolutionary War?

KID: No!

Librarian: I could really use a clue here...Do you want to tell me what you need a book about?

KID: Keep guessing!

MOM: ...but it does have something to do with history...!

Librarian: Oh, good, I needed a clue!  So, it's about history...Is the assignment about World history, or United States history?

KID: The United States!

Librarian: Great! We are really narrowing it down...Are you looking for a book about the history of a person or a place or a time period?

KID: It's a report about a place.  I Heart My Library buttons

Librarian: All right, now we're cooking! I wonder if it is about a state?

KID: Yes, it is about a state!

Librarian: All right...is it California, by any chance?

KID: No, that's my friend's state!

Librarian:  Oh, no! You are not going to make me guess every single state are you?

KID: (gleefully) Yes!!!

Librarian: ...Wait a minute, I think we are close enough already...(getting up from desk, walking past them)...Follow me! We're going to figure this out!

KID: (looks up at his mom with wide open eyes)

MOM: Let's follow her!

Librarian: Right over here...these shelves right here have all the books on the United States, one state at a time. Starting with the north-east, going to the south-east, then the mid-west, then the south, then the west...Hmmmm...Which state could it be?

MOM: I see it!!!

KID: Where?!?!

MOM: (Mom craftily plays both sides of the game...the knowing and the not-knowing side...)  What letter does it start with?

KID: It starts with a "V".

...He's looking...The adults are waiting...It doesn't take long...

KID: Here it is! I found it!

Librarian: Aha, it was Virginia! And it looks like we have more than one book.  I'm so glad you found something. Go ahead and take them all off the shelf, and open them up. We have books for different reading levels, so you'll want to pick the one that is just right for you.

MOM: (to Librarian) Thank you so much.  (to her son) Say thanks!

KID: My grandma & grandpa are in Virginia.

Librarian: You're welcome. (His look of astounded satisfaction is a sufficient expression of gratitude.)

 

I'm sure he and I will have another opportunity to practice the Q&A process. People who know how to ask librarians for help get a lot more out of their tax dollars. It's National Library Week. Practice asking your librarian a question today!

 Virginia from the OPL Catalog