I was told the truth about Santa Claus at an early age. I was four. I remember it. I was standing on the couch, in the evening, and my mother told me that it was a pretend game, that she and my dad were the real Santa in our house, and my whole body went hot for a moment as I wrapped my brain around this information. “Did you hear what I said?” she finally asked when I hadn’t said anything. “Can I still believe in Santa anyway?” I asked, slowly. “Sure,” she said. She looked relieved.
I cannot blame my mother for telling me something that I clearly did yet want to know. My aunt had just recently converted to Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I had been asking a lot of uncomfortable questions about why my cousins weren’t getting Christmas presents, and I think my mom was just getting tired of having to make up increasingly elaborate lies. I would like to think that I wouldn’t lie to my daughter, either, or, at the very least, that I raise my daughter to not lie about the big things.
While I don’t really even consider this a bad memory, per se, it was the beginning of my, so far, lifelong ambiguity with Santa. I was definitely the kid who got in trouble for telling the other kids the truth (well, at least my babysitter’s kids, and, frankly, they were asking for it), and I recall that my welcoming words to my brother upon his birth, when I was seven, were, “Welcome to the world, baby! There’s no Santa.”
So imagine how conflicted the upcoming Christmas season is making me feel now that my toddler is old enough to be aware of it. I have no idea—none!—what to tell her about Santa. My daughter is now three, and I really thought that in those three years, I would have figured out some strategy. Before I ever had a child, I pictured him or her precocious and self-aware in this situation. “Santa Claus? Who’s that?” my child would innocently ask me. “It’s a seasonal representation of your progenitors’ wallets,” I would answer. And then we would all have a jolly wintertime secular laugh together at everyone else and their crass commercialism. And then eggnog or something! I don’t know! My point is, my kid was going to be insufferable about this subject, dammit. Just like me.
I don’t know how I should feel about this holiday now. It’s the Santa thing that throwing me. Somehow, without my interference one way or another, without my ever having really mentioned the subject, my kid knows all about Santa and understands all the rules that go along with him. Of course she’s been getting gifts for Christmas every year, but I have never said that something came from Santa, or, if she asked who gave her something in particular, I have specifically said that her mom and dad got it for her.
But despite my rigorous attention to the truth, I don’t think it made an impression. She talks about Santa a lot, and, well, she’s even getting me excited now. Will she sit on his lap this year? Do you think he’ll visit our house? What does she want for Christmas? I’m really interested in knowing these things, too. For the first time, in a long time, the season is feeling … magical. A season of wonder. But after a lifetime of feeling blasé about it, I just don’t know what to do with these feelings.
The other night, at bedtime, my daughter wouldn’t do something or another that she was supposed to do. “Maybe I’ll just tell Santa,” I told her. Did that just come out of my mouth? I wondered. I couldn’t believe I had ever said that. “Don’t tell him, Mom,” said my daughter. I didn’t answer immediately, as I was still in shock. “Mom,” she said, looking plaintively into my eyes, “Don’t tell him, okay?” “Okay,” I said. “I won’t.” I looked in those eyes, and I want her to believe whatever it is that makes her happy right now. We always talk about wanting our kids to have things that we didn’t have when we growing up. I think I might be ready to let my daughter have Santa.
(Image: getty images)