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The Truth About Santa (or Why I Still Believe)

As often happens this time of year, the conversation turned to talk of Santa, and the furious whispers nervous parents utter:  Is it okay to tell our kids Santa is real?  Will it scar them later, when they learn the truth?  Are we setting them up for betrayal down the line? 

These are important questions, for those who celebrate and for those who don't--after all, we don't want to interfere in the traditions of other families...but we want to do what's right. So how can parents address this? I can't speak to all parents, but I can talk about what my mom taught me about Santa, and how I believe in him to this day.


In our house, Santa was real.  He ate the cookies, the reindeer ate the carrots—I even remember how Santa took a bite out of the ham salad sandwich I put out for him one year.  Mom was repulsed by ham salad—she would NEVER have taken that bite.  I have proof! I cried to my classmates. And for another year, we all believed.


I don’t remember exactly when I started to question Mom, but I do remember her answer: Santa is real so long as you believe in him. When you stop believing, he stops coming. Which meant the presents did, too, I figured, so I continued to believe, pretending Mom wasn’t the one doing all the grunt work. And by doing so I entered the great theater of Christmas and the fun of pretending, and had my first understanding of magic. 


As I got older, Mom was adamant that Santa was real. He can’t exist if we don’t believe in him, she’d say. His magic goes away the instant we stop believing in it. When my baby brother came along in my teens, I was a part of the wrapping and staging and prepping Christmas Eve. I was a part of Santa, of the magic of Christmas.  I learned that magic can make a child’s eyes sparkle, and that there is more wonder in the wrapping and staging and prepping than there ever was in the opening. I learned that if I stopped believing, then Santa would go away, and so would the magic and all the joy within it.


I still believe in Santa. Ask me if he’s real, and I will answer adamantly, Yes, yes he is. The same is true of the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. There is magic inherent in these myths of our childhood, magic inherent in us.  Mom knew that, and made sure that Christmas stockings and Easter baskets found me each year, no matter what continent I called home or what language I heard spoken outside my door.


My mother died one year just before Easter. Easter morning I awoke, saddened that the Easter Bunny was really gone.  I learned my mistake when I opened the front door to a basket. 


There’s power in those myths, and wonder in that magic. I believe in Santa, and the Easter Bunny, and all the childhood myths of wonder that make our eyes sparkle whether we’re giving or receiving. I think my mom was right—myths give us the opportunity to believe magic into existence.

Now that my own children are older, I've seen firsthand how that magic translates into the next generation. A few years ago, I asked them where they stood on the whole Santa thing. I was extremely pleased to hear my daughter tell me she was pretty sure it was her parents leaving the presents, but that didn't make it any less special. She enjoyed the thought of being Santa for someone else, of becoming part of that magic. Now teens, they each take a stocking and fill it for someone else. They get to embody Santa and the spirit of giving, and there's a quiet, peaceful joy in that. And of all the things I want to give my children for Christmas, a quiet, peaceful joy may be at the top of that list.

If your family celebrates with Santa this holiday season and you're wondering the logistics on how to tell the truth, check out this article I was interviewed for. It has more details on how to look at Santa from a developmental perspective, and create a magical experience of your own for your family.

No matter what your family celebrates (or doesn't) this time of year, I wish you light, love, and magic...and a quiet, peaceful joy.



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