The Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and everything of the like are things that kids and many adults cherish as part of their childhood memories. Mythical creatures that bring you yummy treats or presents while you sleep can only produce blissful memories and giddy anticipation upon the thought of such events. . . or do they?
One day in early November my 9 year old approached me with a question. “Is Santa Claus real?” he asked me. Terribly unprepared I tried my best to play it cool and responded, “Why do you ask?” He went on to explain that he and a couple of friends from school were talking about Christmas and that someone said that Santa wasn’t real and that your parents were the ones who put all of your presents under the Christmas tree. Still not really sure what to say but not really surprised by what seemed to be typical third grade banter I asked, “What do you think about that?” His response was startling. Hurt and teary-eyed he stated, “That’s lying. Why would parents lie to their kids like that?”
Feeling unprepared in the first place, my son’s painful and innocent question pierced me deeply. I was in way over my head here and wasn’t exactly sure what to do. I tried to remember what I felt like when I discovered that my Mom was the one who stayed up late at night sneaking presents under the tree from Santa. The only emotions I could remember were slight disappointment that the magical character I thought had been watching me all year was not real but ,since I still got presents I wasn’t terribly upset. My son’s reaction was beyond anything I would have been prepared for if I had even thought to prepare.
Realizing that this was going to be a serious conversation I stopped what I was doing and gave him my full attention. I asked him why he was so upset about this and he told me that if it was true that parents shouldn’t lie to their kids and expect them to always tell the truth. This was more than simply growing up and learning something new. To my son, this was betrayal.
At this age he already knew that a giant bunny didn’t run around the backyard hiding candy for he and his siblings to find so I figured the thought of Santa not being real wouldn’t be so traumatizing. Struggling for composure I managed to ask my son what he thought about traditions. I explained that every holiday has something linked to it that has always been done and passed down through the years. I asked what he thought of Santa being a tradition. After thoughtful consideration he said that he understood how having Santa as a tradition would be ok but asked why parents didn’t just explain that he was a tradition in the first place. I finally began to understand the meaning of being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Seeing that this conversation was only making him more upset I hugged my sniffling 9 year old and told him that we could talk more about it tomorrow. I really needed some time to think. What in the world was I going to do about this? I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for me to just come out and tell him that Santa wasn’t real. It would be digging my own grave, my own personal admission to LYING to my children. This seemingly innocent childhood character had turned me into the bad guy!
What made the Santa fantasy so terrible? I was determined to examine the tradition and find out what made all of this so painful. Let me see . . . Santa is a jolly fat man in a red suit who is always looking in on you to see if you are “naughty” or “nice”. How many times have parents warned, “You had better (insert threat of your choice here) or Santa won’t bring you any presents!” Guilty. Santa Claus brings all of the children in the entire world presents in a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer. Lie. Santa magically shape-shifts to fit himself and a bag full of toys down your chimney while you sleep and eats the cookies you left for him. Creepy. The more I thought about it, there are so many tiny little lies that make up who Santa Claus is. The realization was disheartening.
After a good night’s sleep and careful consideration I decided that our family was going to have to do without Santa from now on. I could seen now that blurring the line between truth and fantasy had to be drawn with such a sensitive subject. Ready to let the ball drop and clear up this painful myth once and for all I suddenly realized that I also had a six and two year old’s feelings to consider. Christmas was just around the corner. I considered the effects that the Santa reveal would take on two little girls just as the Christmas season was going to begin. I decided to let one more year pass for the little girls and clear things up with my son as much as I could without ruining his trust in me forever.
Before knocking on my 9 year old’s door I took a deep breath. I still wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to say but I was determined to not leave that bedroom until there was a positive outcome. My son let me in and we sat on his bed together and continued the conversation from the day before. Not surprised at all, my son had been thinking about our previous conversation too. I decided to further discuss the “Santa COULD be a tradition” theory. After a little while my son asked me a very serious question, “Mom, I think I understand what you are trying to say and all I ask is that if you are the one who is putting presents under the tree when we are asleep, will you not write ‘From Santa’ on mine?” Again, he managed to shock me. He seemed to be in the same position I was in. We both knew the truth but couldn’t manage to come right out and say it. I smiled and hugged my oldest child, grateful for his ability to call me to repentance for lying about a fictional character. It seemed that we had both reached a satisfying conclusion for the time being.
Leaving my son’s room I was amazed at the events that had taken place surrounding this seemingly innocent Christmas tradition. What I had always seen as a playful fantasy was revealed by my son as lying. I was determined to make next Christmas and every other holiday fun but honest when it came to fictional characters. My children look to me as their mother to tell them the truth and that is what I have to do. My responsibility as a parent became clearer to me than ever before. Santa would have to become a fun accessory to Christmas for our family and the spotlight remain on the real meaning of the holiday. There was a wonderful door opened between myself and my oldest child and tradition I hope to pass on for years to come . . . trust and honesty.