By Helen Selander
I have no recollection of the moment I started believing in Santa Claus. But the day I realized he didn't exist will be forever printed on the pages of my memory.
I was eight years old, in third grade, and a die-hard romantic. The question of Santa's existence had come up in the past with my classmates, but I'd always considered the children who didn't believe in him to be complete fools-creatures without faith or imagination-and the topic had quickly been dropped. Of course he existed! And I wasn't one of those kids who had to write Santa a letter in order to be heard. I believed him to be wholly omnipresent. I didn't have to tell him what I wanted for Christmas, or whether I'd been "naughty or nice", because he knew my thoughts, could see everything I did. I actually remember being embarrassed at the thought of him being able to see me when I bathed or used the bathroom. But even that didn't really matter because I knew he loved me-unconditionally.
Although I firmly believed in God, the concept of Santa was easier for me to grasp onto than the more intangible divine Being who I'd never seen nor with whom I had ever conversed. I had never sat on God's lap and chatted with Him, or waved to Him from the sidelines of a parade. But I had done those things with Santa! And he was made even more real through Christmas music, books and movies I'd experienced.
~ The Great Santa Crash ~
Oddly enough, the parents who encouraged my belief in Santa-"If you're not good, Santa will bring you a lump of coal for Christmas"-were also the people who motivated me to cling to him with such romantic obstinacy. In truth, I felt Santa was one of the only living beings who truly loved me.
So when one of my classmates, who didn't like me and couldn't believe I was so gullible as to believe in Santa, listed all the reasons he could not possibly exist -- a light of truth went on in my mind and I was utterly devastated. Not to mention, I was profoundly humiliated at the thought of having been deceived so completely by my parents and older siblings.
It took years to recover from the agony that one realization caused. Thus, as a young mother, I struggled with whether or not to encourage a belief in Santa. My husband didn't have a strong opinion on the subject, so the issue became my own. I didn't want my children to be disillusioned as I had been. But part of me didn't want them to miss out on what many considered to be the magic of Christmas-and what had once been for me.
~ White Christmas, White Lies ~
My eldest (as always) became the "experimental guinea pig" in my quest to determine whether the myth of Santa should exist in our family. When my son was old enough to understand the concept of Santa, I hesitantly purchased Christmas presents on Santa's behalf and gave them to him. But I felt uncomfortable as he opened the presents-as if I was lying to him-as I had been lied to.
A couple of Christmases later, when my son began hearing differing points of view on the subject of Santa, he asked me if I believed in him. I edged around the question, saying something like, "I'd like to believed he exists". That at least was true.
"But I have no proof of it. I've never met him before, so I couldn't really say. And I didn't actually see him put any presents under the tree." This was pushing the boundaries of honesty, but I was still uncertain about what felt right.
This explanation seemed to appease him the first year his question came up, but not the second. When it cropped up again and I responded in the same fashion, he demanded I tell him whether I believed Santa existed or not. Although I struggled to say it, I told him I did not believe Santa existed as a real person-but I wished I could.
I come from a genetically rebellious family, but nevertheless I was surprised when he shouted emphatically: "Well, I believe in him!"
"Great. Back to square one", I thought. It took more Christmases and several discussions to convince him his mother wasn't the idiot he assumed her to be.
~ Charting a Different Course ~
I didn't make the same mistake with my two daughters. I realized deceiving my children on any level, even to preserve the proverbial magic of Christmas, made me uneasy. I explained to them something similar to what my husband had been taught as a child-that Santa was a symbol of unconditional love, and although he doesn't exist (as he had long ago in the form of St. Nicholas) all of us could be like him at Christmas-time and throughout the year.
However, with encouragement from friends whose parents didn't follow the same ideology, in addition to multiple viewings of much beloved movies like Miracle on 34th Street, my daughters, who are also romantics, truly wanted to believe in Santa.
When the eldest of the two was ten years old and the youngest was six, the two of them (who had never received a gift labeled "from Santa") decided to test their belief by leaving cookies out for him on Christmas Eve, making us promise not to eat them. Part of my elfish husband wanted to consume the tasty morsels, more as a joke than anything, but I refused to allow it. I believed our daughters needed to trust their parents to be truthful more than they needed to believe in Santa.
Although they were mildly disappointed after they discovered the still-full plate of cookies, they soon recovered, and we had a wonderful Christmas.
~ From the Mouths of Babes…~
Exposing the myth of Santa Claus to my children was the only choice that gave me personal peace. However, each of them have their own opinions of my methods.
Recently, after asking my sixteen-year-old son how he felt about being told so soon Santa doesn't exist, he answered in typical teenage fashion, "I could care less."
"Are you sure"?" I inquired, secretly willing to accept any guilt he might bestow on me if he felt I'd made a mistake.
His wise reply surprised me. "Hey," he said, "if I decide I want to believe in Santa Claus again-I can." I totally understood.
When I asked my thirteen-year-old daughter if she felt she'd missed out on anything by being raised without a belief in Santa, she responded, matter-of-factly, "No."
When I asked my nine-year-old daughter how she felt, she replied, uncertainly, "I still kinda do believe in him."
Obviously a chip off the old block. Empathy and love filled my heart as I assured her, "I have absolutely no problem with that."
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