Imagine how hard I laughed when I found out that Santa was really a padded Irish woman named Eileen.
Eileen was a friend of my aunt and had been dressing up as (a very convincing) Santa who made an appearance at every Christmas Eve dinner since I was an infant.
Well, when she stopped by our house one day during the summer I was eight and I heard her naturally deep chuckle, worlds collided before my eyes. It took me a minute to sort it all out. But once my mom wordlessly confirmed what I was thinking, I knew I carried a big responsibility — to keep this secret for the sake of my little brother and sister, and our gaggle of younger cousins who would still believe in Santa for many years.
I never talked about it with any of them, and don’t know exactly at what point each of them figured out the story behind the (wo)man we called Santa. I’m just guessing that they all know by now. And if they don’t, it’s beyond me to ruin something as pure and joyful as what it feels like to believe in Santa.
Did I mention that I heard sleigh bells from my bedroom one year? And that I forced myself to go to sleep before the reindeer landed on the roof? Yeah, I believed in a big way. But when I figured out that he wasn’t real in the sense that he was an actual person who lived in the North Pole with elves, I wasn’t let down much at all. Santa just became more of a feeling than a being.
So for my children, I feel strongly that Santa is one of those white lies worth telling — you know, the ones that bring more good than bad. They’re not lucky enough to have a personal appearance by the jolly old man himself on Christmas, but you can bet that they mail their letters to Santa Claus right after Thanksgiving and then he stops by on Christmas night to eat those cookies we baked and bring the carrots we left back up to the reindeers on our roof. Sometimes he even leaves a (left-handed) note about how proud he is of L. and S. for being good all year.
My only fear is that he might be losing half his audience this year with my son teetering on the edge of awareness — which makes me sad (something I didn’t feel when I found out myself).
The collective sigh that went around the table at his football awards dinner, when the parents of his friends brought up the subject, said it all. Our wistful “maybes” for just one more year of believing in Santa were unanimous. We vowed to silence any other child in the school who tempted our sons with doubt. Just one more year.
But whether it will be or not, I feel comfortable in knowing that most children make this discovery when they’re ready to handle it, and no matter how many times a friend on the school bus or an older cousin tells them that Santa Claus is not “real” they won’t believe it until they’re ready not to believe.
And to those parents who think they’re saving their children a heartache, or preserving their child’s sense of trust in them and the world — do what you will, but don’t rain on my child’s parade. If he says Santa, you say where?
I know they will be better for having believed and lost, than never to have believed before…