I found out there was no Santa Claus in 1981. I was six years old and in the first grade. The boy who disclosed this information to me? An older and wiser second grader named Michael Blue. (More than thirty-five years later, I feel no need to protect the guilty party. I’m calling him out.) I went home from school that day and asked my mom if Michael’s assertion was true. She asked what I thought — a classic mom move. I told her Michael seemed pretty sure about himself. My mom said, “Well, he’s right.” And that was it. No grand story about the magic of Christmas and how Santa is alive as long as we believe it in our hearts. From then on, I just knew that the presents from Santa were actually purchased by my parents.
I kept up the charade for the benefit of my younger siblings for several more years. This effort proved particularly difficult when, at age nine, my mom made me sit on the lap of a skinny Santa wearing docksider shoes and garbage bags wrapped around his legs as substitutes for boots at the local Showbiz Pizza. I’m pretty sure he was a teenage employee filling in at the last minute for the Santa who didn’t show. But I guess it worked. I got the Transformer I wanted that year.
Most of my friends seemed to find out about Santa around the same time that I did. A few still hung on through the third or fourth grade. My sister was eight when she learned the truth. I remember that leading up to that moment I wondered if she ever would figure it out. A lot of my friends were Jewish and Santa never visited them in the first place. (But they got EIGHT NIGHTS of presents!) Regardless of my childhood playgroup demographics, it seems for my kids and their peers Santa sticks around for longer than when I was growing up. It doesn’t seem unusual for those who are ten or eleven years old still to believe in Santa. I have no strong feelings one way or the other on that observation. I just noticed it to be the case.
My sixth grade daughter turns twelve in January. This will be the first Christmas that she is operating in a completely post-Santa holiday. She carried her strong doubts for a couple of years, but I always deflected the question. My reason? It’s not that I didn’t think she was not old enough to know the truth. Instead, I was worried that she would use this knowledge on her younger brother as a way to upset him during one of their many arguments. But now that my son is eight years old, I think he is old enough to handle the Santa reality if it comes tumbling out of his sister’s mouth. And you know what? I’m reaping serious benefits from having a kid who in on the Santa secret.
No more “was that from Santa or me” confusion.
Raise your hand if sometime in May you said, “Why do you need another (fill in the blank with your child’s favorite toy/video game/doll)? I just got you one at Christmas!” And then your child replied, “No, Mommy! Santa brought me that!” And then began the backpedaling and explanations. Yes. I plan always to have at least one present from Santa under the tree for my kids even when they are adults. Because, why not? But in our post-believing in Santa home? I do not have to keep a mental list of what was from me and what Santa brought down the chimney.
Someone else to move the elf on the shelf!
This year, I officially handed the elf responsibilities over to my daughter. I admit it – I never really liked the elf. And I regret starting the tradition many years ago. To me, he totally negates Santa’s power. If Santa can see you when you’re sleeping and knows when you are awake, why does he need all the elves? But, I digress. I know there are moms who have fun setting up the elf every night. By all means, I support your passion. You do you! My daughter is excited to have this “adult” responsibility and is certain that she will be more creative than I have been when positioning the elf. (She’s correct in this assertion). Let’s see how many times she wakes up in a cold sweat at 2am realizing she forgot to move the thing!
Shifting the focus of the season.
I understand that some parents LOVE playing Santa and treasure those magical times with their kids. I get that. And I wish you countless wonderful memories from those times. For me? Santa never really played a big part of Christmas. Don’t get me wrong. We always went to have photos taken with Santa — at least until two years ago when the kids stopped asking to go. (While my son still believes in Santa, he does not think the guy at the mall is the real deal. And he sees no need to chat with him.) I hid around the side of the house and shook those sleigh bells while my then three-year-old daughter sat on her Papa’s lap. She was certain that was Santa’s sled. I enjoyed all of those Santa moments.
But I’m excited to shift to a phase for our family when we can volunteer and devise random acts of kindness and study the theology of the season in a more mature way. I’m excited for the special memories we will make together as my kids continue to grow into teenage and then young adult life. There is so much magic that comes with this time of year! We don’t need Santa for that.
Yes, I am sad for the departure of Santa. It means that my kids are growing up. It is one of those revelations that marks a childhood transition. But I know there are many great Christmas memories still to be made. For now, though? Please. No one tell my son . . .