Wednesday, December 22, 2010


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.


  1. We never let our child believe in Santa. Not 'scrooge-ish' just, realistic. We explained the history of Santa and what he represents, the spirit, but we were clear that he wasn't real and that the people who love you bring you the gifts. It's a small town so we were also clear that we had to keep this 'non-Santa' secret to ourselves. Lest we be known as the family that ruined it for every kid in town.

  2. Awwww.....what a morning! BEFORE coffee???? How could he? lol..... Sounds like you handled it with sheer perfection! You are an awesome mom - your boys are very lucky! Hugs...

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. I have a 10 yr. old son who still believes, I think. He has been somewhat quiet about it this year, but he still wanted to go see Santa. His older siblings have told me that it is time to tell him the truth, but I was afraid of breaking his heart. I would much rather him ask me then me just up and tell him. May be the chicken way out, but I am sticking with that plan for now. I love your explanation and it will help me when the time comes. Again, thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas!

  4. wait...
    YOUR MOM santa????

    santa writes like MY DAD.

    wait. wait....

    thanks for the wonderful story!
    my sister and i also figured things out, without undue trauma, as i recall. one year when we read the note that santa left for us, his handwriting looked JUST LIKE my dad's.

    you did a great job of explaining to nick.
    might enjoy the book called
    the autobiography of told to jeff guinn

    have a wonderful, relaxing, blessed christmas!
    marty ferraro

  5. You did a great job of explaining and keeping Santa's spirit real (even if you didn't have your morning coffee).

  6. I'm with Fran... I don't view myself as Scroogish. I wasn't taught to believe in Santa as a child and the thought as an adult to teach my kids something utterly untrue, was quite frankly, disturbing to me. Christmas was magical to me as a child believing only in the birth of our Savior and receiving presents and eating wonderful food on the day. My kids LOVE Christmas in spite of our household's heretical view on Santa. Sorry if Jacob contributed to Nick's doubt...He told me last year at school (as a second grader, mind you) he told a kid he didn't like Santa because he took away from the true meaning of Christmas which was Christ's birth. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't proud of him, despite knowing the kid's mom does feel the spirit of Santa towards any of us!!!! And, I, too have told the kids not to say anything to the believers about not believing, but, obviously, my little nonbelievers don't always obey me :-).

  7. All that before coffee is an impressive achievement. Like you growing up, I just knew what happened and was happy to play along. I feel bad for Nick feeling cheated but glad he was able to work through all you said and be happy at the end.
    Have a wonderful Christmas.

  8. This happened to me this year. My oldest asked the question, but I don't think he was ready for the answer. Heartbreaking. He wouldn't talk or even look at me for hours. I gave him a couple days, and then approached the subject again. There were tears and a little bit of anger. I told him I wanted him to watch Polar Express with me after the little boys went to bed. I told him he would watch it and take away from the movie, a whole new perspective about Christmas and the magic of Santa.
    I think this helped. I HOPE it helped. It helped me! LOL!
    Part of me remembers finding out and being heartbroken. Of course, I don't want this heartbreak for my child, but I am also in disbelief that I have a child old enough to not believe in Santa. Maybe this makes me vain, but that makes ME FEEL OLD! :)


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!