"I've never gotten a present from Santa Claus," said Iliana, my
12-year-old seatmate on an east coast flight. "My parents thought I
should only be given verifiable facts. They told me there is no
veracity in Santa Claus."
"It's too bad that no one ever told your parents about the Secret
of Santa Claus. When you know the Secret, you believe in Santa
Claus all your life, even if you can't verify facts," I said.
"You believe in Santa Claus? What secret?"
"It's simple, but...."
"Please, tell me," Iliana said.
"We're flying on a plane right now. Who built this plane? Who
designed it? Who got it ready to fly? Who trained our pilots? We
know that someone had to do it, and with some research we could
find those people. We won't though. We'll never meet those people.
I'll call them invisible workers since they work to give us
something we couldn't do alone."
I took a sip of coffee. "There are thousands of invisible workers
for almost everything we use. I have no idea who planted the beans
for this cup of coffee, or who picked them, roasted them and
packaged them. I can only thank our flight attendant, the last
person in this invisible line of people."
"I have faith," I continued, "that when I wish to fly on an
airplane, or have a cup of coffee, these unknown people will have
done their jobs, and my desires will come true. I don't have to
grow my own coffee beans or build my own airplane because of all
these wonderful people."
"So you're saying that Santa Claus is an invisible worker?" said
"I see Santa Claus as being all these people in the world, who
strive to serve humankind, to make life more enjoyable, more
comfortable, more magical. I will never see these people who do so
many things for me, but they are most assuredly real. When I
understood this, and I was older than twelve, I wanted to be that
helpful kind of person. In the first stage of believing in Santa
Claus, when we're little, we're on the receiving end. When we live
the secret, we are on the giving side, which is fun. Being like
Santa, which is doing our jobs with cheerful intention to help
others, makes amazing things happen, such as flying at 30,000 feet
at 500 miles an hour, while sipping coffee and talking to you about
"I get it. Once you know how Santa works, you become Santa Claus.
You do your regular stuff with love in your heart and try to help
others, not expecting anything in return. Santa is people helping
people. I'm pretty sure nobody told my parents that," Iliana said.
"I think I'm going to have some fun being an invisible
I was hoping I could show Iliana that Santa is that invisible force
of faith, charity, believing and doing that cannot be easily
explained. For young children, one way we can help them see and
experience this force is in Santa's work. As the young child enters
a developmental stage of reasoning, around age six, and begins to
wonder about Santa, we need to give them opportunities to work and
contribute to something bigger than themselves. We need to show
them how to choose to be part of the magical power of giving,
service and surprise.
As we walked off the plane, Iliana said, "I'm so excited about
Santa Claus. I've already got some great ideas. I think this
feeling is what the saying, "It's more blessed to give than to
receive," means. Boy, are my parents and a few other people going
to be surprised."
Iliana spied her grandparents and started singing, "Here Comes
Santa Claus." They laughed and said, "What are you so happy
As I walked away, Iliana waved and winked at me, then answered,
"It's a secret."