I don’t remember the specific moment when I realized that it wasn’t a big guy in a red suit bringing me presents every Christmas Eve. I don’t know if I asked my parents or if I just figured it out.
You would think I’d be shattered in that instant of clarity — I mean, this huge thing that I had believed in for as long as I could remember was no longer true — but I don’t think I was upset or anything. In fact, I would venture to say my Christmases got even better.
One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is spending it with my kids. Watching them get excited and experience all the magic and wonder of it all. When my tweenage self figured out the truth about Kris Kringle (sounds like a bad movie, no?), suddenly I was in on the secret. That Christmas Eve I found myself moving from audience member to behind-the-scenes crew, allowed to assist my parents and grandparents in keeping up the ruse for my little sister and brother (younger than me by nine and 11 years respectively).
I had a ball. Lying in my bed, pretending to go to sleep until my siblings really were and then sneaking out of the room and helping to put the gifts under the tree. Then back to “sleep,” waiting for my dad’s cue to “wake up” and let the festivities begin — a booming “HO! HO! HO!” I was so happy.
If it were up to me, my kids would believe in Santa Claus forever. But they won’t, thanks to kids on the school bus who are intent on spoiling it and overheard conversations and just the act of growing up. So when it’s time (all three of my kids still believe, although I keep waiting for the 10-year-old to figure it out), and if they ask, I’ll embrace the truth, and tell them and show them that even without a physical Santa, Christmas is still what it always was — a holiday about love and family and everything that is good.
From a practical standpoint, Santa not existing is actually to my benefit. Each year I go bananas trying to make sure my kids have the same amount of gifts to open. When the truth comes out, I feel like my purse strings might actually get a break because suddenly the value of a gift can be a factor.
“It makes life so much easier,” my friend D. confided to me the other day while we were Christmas shopping together. She has four kids, ages 12, 10, 6 and 2. E., her 12-year-old daughter figured out the truth after last Christmas. Apparently she always asks for quite a bit every year, and each item is more expensive that the next. Whenever D. would point out to her that maybe she was asking for too much, the response was always “Santa doesn’t care, he makes everything!” So this year when E. put a $140 sweatshirt on her Christmas wish, list her D. said yes, with the caveat that the sweatshirt would be the only thing E. would be opening up Christmas morning.
“I never felt right with Santa being on a budget,” D. gleefully told me, “but mom and dad sure can be!”
The thing about Christmas and the whole holiday season is that there are so many things to enjoy and look forward to — Santa is just a small part of it all. And I think in a way, when Santa goes from being front and center to a fond part of childhood to look back on, the “responsibility” of making joy and celebrating and just enveloping yourself and your family in the season falls onto ourselves.
And that’s the best gift of all.