This year Holly and I told the kids that Santa isn’t real, but then the kids didn’t believe us.
I didn’t want to burst their Christmas bubble, but it seemed like the right thing to do. Most of the other kids in their fifth grade class don’t believe in Santa anymore. Aaron has been pointedly asking me if Santa were real, and I’d been holding him off by shrugging my shoulders and telling him I believed in Santa. That’s not an entirely untrue statement either: I believe a little faith and imagination will take you places you can’t get on reason alone. I would have let the whole Santa business go right there, but then Kennedy started to draw some uncomfortable associations between religion and Santa. “Jews don’t believe in Santa,” she told my wife. The little kids celebrating Hanukkah were telling Kennedy that Santa isn’t real. She would drift toward her church friends on the playground and say things like “You’re Christian. You believe in Santa, right?” But this only elicited eye rolls and other reactions that Kennedy didn’t understand. Holly and I decided we probably ought to tell them Santa isn’t real.
A few weeks ago after dinner, Holly brought up Santa. The kids gave us their full attention. Holly said Santa was a legend, based on Saint Nicholas, who used to sneak around putting gifts into shoes that poor people left out at night. Holly talked about the Spirit of Giving. Generosity. The Meaning of Christmas. That sort of thing. The room got quiet as a funeral.
“No North Pole?” Aaron asked.
“Nope,” Holly said. “And no reindeer.”
“I knew it,” Aaron said. His voice was even, but disappointed.
Kennedy surprised us by asking a bunch of questions. She wanted to know who bought the Santa gifts. And why the tags on the Santa presents were in a different handwriting than the tags on the rest of the presents. “And who eats the cookies, who drinks the milk?” she asked.
We answered her questions and then started to clean up. I felt terrible. While Holly and I loaded the dishwasher, I wished we could go back in time and do the last ten minutes over. A few days later, I forgot all about it. But then the strangest thing happened: Kennedy said she didn’t believe us!
At first she thought Holly and I were just pulling her leg. She kept asking questions and disbelieving the answers. Soon she convinced herself that Holly and I were out of our minds. It’s probably just a sign of how things are going to go as they get older, but it couldn’t have happened at a better time. Kennedy was planning to prove her theory by writing a secret Santa letter and then asking for something only she and Santa could know about. Fortunately Holly talked her out of it.
Turns out, a little boy has been needling Kennedy about Santa since kindergarten. Her whole focus has been showing this kid up, proving to him that Santa is real. Holly suggested that Kennedy believe what she believes and let her little friend believe what he believes. A lesson that downplays proselytizing and promotes tolerance all rolled up in one. Can I get an amen?
Kennedy even brought Aaron around to her way of thinking. Earlier this week as we were saying prayers, Aaron blissfully slipped into full blown Santa denial and expressed regret for asking Santa for a 14 karat gold plated portable gaming device. I was pleased. Not just because he was believing in Santa again, but because he was showing contrition for being greedy. What kind of kid needs a gold plated PSP?
I couldn’t be more happy with how this year’s Santa reveal turned out. My faith in the unknowable mystery of life has been renewed.
And I hope Aaron and Kennedy believe in Santa Claus until they’re a hundred and fifty.