Monday, Nick showed me his letter to Santa. It included, among other things, a request for Santa to say hello to Mrs. Claus, detailed directions to our house (continent, country, state, county, town, neighborhood, street and number), and candy canes for Santa and Mrs. Claus.
A sweet bribe never hurt, eh?
Nick used his best handwriting, which is a big deal for Mr. Chicken Scratch. He left the letter with our Elf on the Shelf, Chris, so he could hand-deliver it to Santa that night. It seemed safer to him than taking his chances with the United States Postal Service.
Tuesday morning, I slept in, something I almost never do and which left me more disoriented than usual. I staggered downstairs and started making coffee. That’s when Nick assaulted me with the following question:
“Mom, is Santa real?”
WHAT?!?! Hello, I haven’t even had my coffee yet—it’s not even made, for heaven’s sake—and you’re springing this on me. Totally not fair.
I tried every circumlocution my tired brain could muster, including the decisive “Santa doesn’t bring presents to children who don’t believe in him!” Nick would not be deterred.
“Mom, is there a man in a red suit who delivers toys to children in a reindeer-driven sleigh? I have to know the TRUTH!”
So I told him.
And he cried. He threw his arms around me and cried.
I cried, too.
Then, he got mad. “I wish I’d known YEARS ago,” he wailed.
Honestly, his response caught me totally by surprise. You see, I never had an epiphany about Santa. I just gradually realized that Mom was Santa. My sister and I kept up the illusion of believing for years because it made Mom happy. We even gave her a picture of the two of us as teenagers sitting on Santa’s lap at the mall. I’ve heard of families rejecting Santa and raising their children without him, but I’d always thought those families were a bit Scrooge-ish. It never occurred to me (or George, for that matter) to think we’d been lied to.
When I asked Nick if he was angry at me, he said, “No! I’m angry at whoever wrote ‘Twas the Night before Christmas. He lied to kids. That’s just wrong!”
At this point, I explained very clearly that Santa symbolizes the spirit of Christmas and God’s gift of His Son, and that spirit is very much present and alive and real every time someone gives a gift. Children have a hard time understanding what the gift of Baby Jesus really means (a lot of adults grapple with this, too), and that difficult concept is made understandable to children through the story of Santa and his gifts. I also explained that St. Nicholas was a real man who lived in the 4th century and was known for giving presents. That man died, but his spirit lives on in the myth of Santa Claus.
Nick liked this explanation but was still angry, and when I asked why, he said, “Everyone at school was saying he’s not real, and I said he was.”
This made sense to me. He’s been defending Santa against the unbelievers, and now he felt a bit childish and silly…a hard feeling for a kid who wants desperately to be grown up.
So I suggested, “All you have to say when someone says Santa isn’t real is that the spirit of Santa most certainly is real. That is true and anyone who doesn’t believe it is really sad and you should feel sorry for them.”
I was taken aback by how quickly Nick accepted my explanation. He’s now at an age when he can understand symbolic thought, and this both excites me and makes me sad. As an English literature junky, I live and breath symbolic thinking. As a mother, I want my children’s innocent acceptance of this delightful story to continue forever.
At lunch, Nick sat at the table, smiling. He then, out of the blue, declared, “I’m so HAPPY!”
Whew. Christmas isn’t ruined.
But from now on, when a child assaults me before I’ve had my coffee, I’m playing for time.