“Mama, is Santa Claus real?” Emily asked me recently.
I paused for a moment, reflecting on my own experiences as a child. I remember whispering to my Kindergarten teacher that “Santa wasn’t real” with cool confidence, feeling very grown up. I didn’t want to say it loudly, because I knew that many of the other children still believed, and I didn’t want to ruin it for them.
My father had been very clear on the subject early on. Decades later, I asked him why. “I didn’t want to lie,” he said, “Telling you that there was a Santa Claus would have been a lie.”
Some part of me longed for the whimsy of Christmas, the dream of a magical man who could appear in every child’s home, whisk down the chimney, through a flue pipe, or wriggle through a dog door to bring our children their most ardently wished for Christmas toy. So I began with Danielle when she was quite small. Santa always brought a gift wrapped differently than the others (it usually has his face on the wrapping paper).
We would set out cookies and milk, sometimes jingle some bells and call out our goodbyes to him.
I can’t say when Danielle figured it out, probably at the age most children do, at seven or so. During a brief few years when I was stepmother to three children, the youngest turned eight or nine and his mom announced it was time to have the Santa talk. He came to me and said, “Christine, I know Santa isn’t real, my mom told me.”
I stared at him for a moment, smiled, and said, “I don’t know what you mean. Santa lives in all of us and that means he is alive and well.” The kid just stared back at me confused.
My husband Dave has been reluctant to embrace the whole tradition of Santa Claus that I created with Danielle and now wanted to celebrate with Emily. He has said on a number of occasions, “I believed in Santa Claus, really believed, and it absolutely devastated me to learn that my parents were lying to me.”
Ah…the lying thing again.
“…these children have a newly internalized sense of right and wrong. They are no longer focused simply on not getting caught or displeasing adults. They have made up their minds about what is right or wrong…”
Already though, I have seen Emily asking the same question over and over…”Is [it, that, he, she] real?”
And I find a conflict growing within me. I want to be honest with my child, to fairly represent the world in which she is living, without any sugar-coating or cream pie filling. But I also desperately want to dream with her, of worlds that do not exist, of creatures more fantastic than real, and I fear her losing her joy in the magical realm of make-believe.
So…do I tell her Santa Claus is real? Do I try to explain that the magic of Santa Claus lives within all of us? Or do I explain that Santa Claus is one of our favorite enduring myths?
How do YOU deal with the question of Santa Claus? What do YOU tell your children?