What Santa’s Demise Can Teach Us About Doubt and Wonder

For children, the magic of Christmas Eve isn’t found in certainty about Christmas morning gifts. The magic of Christmas Eve is born in doubt and uncertainty and anticipation and waiting. Because these are the ingredients of mystery and wonder…

Christmas eve lights

Photo Credit: Moment Catcher (Creative Commons)


As a child, my family had a tradition of celebrating Christmas Eve in the next town over. The thirty-minute drive home through miles of cornfields late on Christmas Eve was always impregnated with wonder and mystery. I remember looking out the window and seeing the flashing red light of a tower in the distant fields and wondering if maybe, just maybe, that was Rudolph’s red nose busily at work.

I remember I finally stopped believing in Santa Claus around the fourth grade, when I decided the lack of footprints in fireplace ash was damning evidence against the big guy. (Never mind that a magical man who floats around on a sleigh dragged by flying reindeer might have a way of getting past the ash without a trace.)

Yet, I think my sense of Christmas Eve mystery and wonder had actually come to an end several years before, when I started to doubt. Because when I started to doubt, I began to do what we all do when we find ourselves in a place of uncertainty—I began to search for answers.


We do this, don’t we?

If we are uncertain or unknowing, we instantly begin to scramble for explanations and reasons. We are desperate to restore equilibrium by knowing. We experience doubt and questions as a threat, something to be remedied and eliminated.

And in this day and age, it is so easy to know. To eliminate doubt and questions, we need only a smart phone and a Google app. Ask an obscure question at a dinner party, and everyone reaches for a phone. And the speed of the reaction is inversely correlated with age. The younger a person is, the more likely they have become accustomed to knowing everything instantly, and the less likely they are to sit in wonder.

Comedian Pete Holmes puts it this way:

What if doubt and unknowing is meant to be, not the beginning of fear and disbelief, but the birthplace of wonder and mystery?


We have to nurture our doubt and unknowing. We have to restrain the impulse to seek answers and tidy explanations. We have to wait inside our doubt and uncertainty. Because in the uncertain-waiting place, mystery is touched and wonder is born and people are drawn together as one.

This is why Christmas Eve is a night of magic and wonder and mystery for our children. Not because of certainty about the following morning. But because of the waiting. Waiting in uncertainty. Waiting with anticipation. And in the waiting, the fullness and mystery of the holiday moment is opened up to them.

In The Path of Waiting, Henri Nouwen writes:

“A waiting person is a patient person…patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her womb.”

Could we become like children again this Christmas Eve? Could we step into all of our doubt and uncertainty and, just for an evening, banish our compulsive need for answers and explanations?

Could we simply wait and nurture the moment?

Might we stop and take a deep breath and look up into the night sky and feel small and answerless and let that mysterious smallness be the seed of wonder? Might we cease to debate politics and faith at the holiday dinner table, trading it in for a mutual sense of mystery—a blessed uncertainty that unites us rather than divides us? Might we wonder at the breathtaking complexity of our automatic breath and our unthinking senses and the bottomless hearts of our children and the uncontainable souls of our lovers?

Maybe, if for one magical Christmas Eve, we could quit Googling away the moment and patiently step into all of our unknowing, we would tremble not with fear but with wonder.

And maybe the other gifts of Christmas would absolutely pale in comparison.

QUESTIONS: Has your doubt ever been transformed into a sense of mystery and wonder? What happened to catalyze this experience for you? Share your thoughts in the comments section.  

DEAR READER, My new eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, is now available in PDF format, and I’m giving it away free to new and existing e-mail subscribers! If you are not yet a subscriber, you can click here to subscribe, and your subscription confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook for free. The book is also now available for Kindle and Nook. As always, thank you for reading; it’s a gift. Sincerely, Kelly

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Ktina’s kitchen

    Jason is now creating “wonder time” in our home, and it’s going to last 72 hours before we are allowed to Google anything. Thanks a lot. Haha! No, really, that was a great post, and I laughed uncontrollably at the video. I also loved the flashback to out childhood and trying to convince Kyle that the red light, was undoubtedly Rudolph’s nose!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Love it. “Wonder time.” We tried to do this with our guests last night and it was very hard to do!

  • Jennifer Newell

    In The Path of Waiting, Henri Nouwen writes:
    “A waiting person is a patient person…patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her womb.”
    This is the part that got to me, especially the “live actively in the present and wait there.” I would say that is where I sit these days with wonder and mystery. Looking for a new job will teach you to have patience and to keep looking until the right thing comes along.
    As far as the Google free time this holiday season, it is built in at grandma’s house. They live on the lake and lets just say you wont find 4G LTE there. You have to drive a few miles up the road to get a signal on your phone. So the wonder of it all is found there for sure.

    • drkellyflanagan

      A hidden blessing of Grandma’s house!