Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

‘Tis the season, and I’ve had quite a few requests for this old post detailing our decision to let our kids believe in Santa. This year, my seven year old has decided on his own that Santa is imaginary and his father and I are the folks who leave the presents under the tree. There were a few times when he asked, “But, why did you lie?” and I was able to tell him this story and explain to him that he truly wanted to believe, and so I let him.

Some of the old “evangelical-ness” is back, wherein he nearly exploded trying not to tell the whole wide world Santa was pretend. But we worked out a little agreement. When his brother or sister or a friend mentions Santa, or even when an adult asks him what Santa is bringing him, he will turn to me and give me a knowing wink. And I’ll wink back. He’s not very subtle, but the other littles haven’t seemed to pick up on any of his knowledgeable smugness, so all is well.

This post was originally posted on my old blog on November 29, 2006. My now seven year old was five at the time.

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My parents never pushed Santa on my siblings and I as something we should believe in. It was a fun story we heard every December, but we knew our presents really came from mom and dad. We went to the mall once in a while to sit on Santa’s lap and set out cookies on Christmas Eve, but we knew it was just an exciting game we played each season.

It wasn’t until I was much older, I realized how odd this was. I asked my mother if she ever had any problems with me debunking my friends’ belief in Santa. She says she did not, but pointed out around the early elementary school years where St. Nick is largely the focus during the month of December, I really wanted to believe. She says she didn’t do anything to discourage it, but if I outright asked if a jolly man in a red suit lived at the North Pole with a team of Elves, she would say “No, but it’s a fun story to pretend is real, isn’t it?”

Eric and I talked a little about this during our first Christmas as parents. Cradling my chubby baby in my arms, I couldn’t ever imagine telling him anything that wasn’t true. We agreed to follow in the steps of my parents. Santa and his Eight Tiny Reindeer could be a part of the story, but we wouldn’t ever tell him they really and truly existed.

Last year, it wasn’t too much of an issue. We read the stories and when my then four year old asked, “Is Santa really in our world?” we said, “No, but it’s a fun story to pretend is real, isn’t it?” My boys were delighted on Christmas morning, tearing into their gifts and enjoying the company of family and friends — the question of who put the presents there for them to open didn’t come up.

This year, however, has been very different. My five year old has been excited for Christmas since I showed him sometime mid November where December 25th was on the calendar. Now that Thanksgiving is over, his preschool has shifted away from Pilgrim and turkey crafting to Santa and reindeer projects. My son has been punctuating conversations about Christmas with, “But I know Santa isn’t really real. You and daddy bring the presents.” We’ve had talks about how fun it is for people to believe in Santa, and how he should never, ever tell his friends Santa isn’t real. But I’ve seen him. He is bursting with the knowledge. Like a tiny, militant evangelist, he can’t keep it inside. His little friend from across the street asks innocently, “What is Santa bringing you this year?” And he totally explodes, “But! He’s not really real!”

“Honey, no!” We have a talk in the other room, and again I watch him try to hold it inside as his friend talks about Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.

Yesterday my son and I were fixing the bottom of the Christmas tree the cat had destroyed during the night. He hung a Santa ornament on the tree and sadly repeated again, “But he’s not real.” I looked at him, he seemed so adult, so… stoic. I phoned my mother and asked if I had ever fixated on the whole Santa thing like my little boy was doing. She didn’t think so and said, “Maybe you’ve removed all the fun for him. He can’t enjoy the season with his friends because he’s carrying around the truth about Santa like a burden on his shoulders.”

I said, “But mom, he’s so serious. He’s all wrapped up with what is real; what is truth. What if I push the Santa story, let him believe and then he’s angry and hurt when he finds out I lied? Mommy tells the truth could be his tag line right now. He could carry it around, embroidered on a banner. It’s how he defines his life.”

She said, “I don’t know, honey. Maybe you just need to let him be five.”

This probably seems so stupid to so many of you. What harm is there in letting a kid believe in Santa? Probably none at all. So I took a leap. I had purchased a timer for the Christmas tree lights, and I sat my sweet child down on the living room sofa with me.

Me: Do you want to believe in Santa Claus?
Him: Yes. But he’s not real. You and daddy bring the presents.
Me: It would be fun though, wouldn’t it? If he was real? Flying through the sky in a sleigh full of toys?
Him: (Brightens) Yes!
Me: Do you know, I used to set a plate of cookies and a glass of milk out when I was a little girl? It was the night before Christmas.
Him: Christmas Eve!
Me: Yes, and in the morning, the cookies were gone!
Him: !!
Me: Who do you think ate them?
Him: (thinking) Maybe a robber.
Me: But a robber would have taken the television set, maybe. And nothing was missing, but guess what was under our Christmas tree?
Him: Presents!
Me: That’s right. So who ate the cookies?
Him: Santa?
Me: Maybe.
Him: But he isn’t real.
Me: Do you know what I heard?
Him: What?
Me: I heard that Santa can turn on Christmas lights by magic!
Him: How?
Me: By magic. Should we watch our tree and see if the lights turn on?
Him: Yes!

So we wait. And he keeps saying in a disappointed voice, “I knew he wasn’t real.” But finally, the timer behind the couch clicks to 5pm and just like magic, the lights click on and sparkle magnificently.

My son claps his hands and dances around the room. He’s so delighted, so filled with joy. All the seriousness is gone – at least for a moment. I smile and think, “I did the right thing!”

My husband walks in right about then from taking one of his employees home and our five year old runs to him, “Daddy! Santa turned on our Christmas lights by magic, he’s really real, and he’s going to come down our chimney and eat our cookies and leave us presents! It’s true, it’s really true, mommy tells the truth.”

And there it is. Mommy tells the truth. A pang of guilt stabs me through the center. My husband doesn’t skip a beat and swings his boy around exclaiming, “All right! That’s awesome!” but glances at me over his shoulder with a raised eyebrow.

After the kids are in bed, my husband and I sit in front of the glittery tree and wonder over it all. Surely it’s okay for a few sugarplums to dance in their heads? Can’t they just be little? Is there a difference between a lie and a magical story? I don’t over-think it when I tell my toddler his shoes are magic so he’ll wear them. I don’t over think it when I jokingly tell my sons they have elephants in their noses in order to get them to let me attack them with a tissue. Why so much over-thought about this? I know a big part of it was how I was raised, but my siblings and I were and are different than this serious little man of mine. I didn’t carry the truth about Santa Claus like a bag of bricks on my tiny little back. And he did. The bag of bricks is gone — for the time being — and he seems so happy. I wish this tiny whisper of guilt would disappear too.

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