Frankly, Virginia, It’s Complicated

*Warning: This post discusses the existence of Santa Claus.

I hate the idea of Santa Claus. No really. Despite all the Christmas crap I have—candy cane mugs, snowmen candy dishes, Christmas tree dining set for sixteen, bath towels, door mats, nutcracker butter knives, Santas that sing, Santas that laugh, penguins that ring bells, and garland that sparkles in every single room—I hate it.

Before I had kids I always thought that I wouldn’t perpetuate such a myth. Likewise, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny were out. I decided my kids would be somewhat alone among their peers but would be better for it. They wouldn’t run around believing that a kindly old guy breaks into our house once a year and sneaks around so quietly that neither dogs nor mom would hear it. As an added bonus, they wouldn’t fall prey to believing that this same old guy is “watching” them at all times—which as an adult is, honestly, creepy. We could also steer away from sitting on mall Santas’ laps and writing letters that I “mail” (which I don’t) and hide in my underwear drawer where I can pull it out and refer to the list. No, my kids were going to be so above all that.

And then I had kids and it was hard to ignore the enormity of this myth. He was everywhere. On Coke bottles and M&M bags, in TV commercials selling cars and toys and even in our home: soap dishes, music boxes, cookie cutters. Not only that, but wherever my kids went between November and December 26th, people would engage my children in Santa-driven conversation: So, what are you going to ask Santa for this year? Did you get what you asked for? I tried not to roll my eyes.

Early on in our kids’ lives, my husband and I were up late one Christmas Eve wrapping presents when I labeled one, To: Bella From: Santa. My husband was upset. “Why should Santa get all the credit for these presents? I want to give her the one she really wants. Santa can give her the clothes.” I hesitated; he had a point. Why did we work so hard saving up, sneaking around shopping, and hiding boxes in trash bags in our garage only to fork over the good deed to an old man who seemed to have a secret relationship with our kids? Not cool.

And yet, each year, as Halloween rolls around, and the Christmas tinsel starts lining the aisles of Target, my kids start to glow with the buzz of Christmas. They sing holiday carols in the car at full volume. They start drafting their letters to Santa: one edit, two edits, Mom, can you proofread this for me before I send it off? I want to be sure it’s right. They love to make holiday cards and turn on all the music boxes and snow globes at once. They love making peanut blossom cookies and rum balls, sugar cookies with way, way too much frosting and globs of dark green sprinkles. They drink lots of eggnog and enjoy way too many Christmas-centered movies where everything always ends up with the kid getting what they desperately wanted, divorced parents suddenly reuniting, and kids being privy to something that adults can’t seem to understand.

Just recently my nine-year-old asked me if it seemed odd that the Tooth Fairy was real but that monsters were not. I was thankful my back was to her. How was I to respond? Hadn’t I been preparing her to question everything in her life? Never talk to strangers. Don’t trust anyone but your family. Never ever sit on a man’s lap in the food court of the mall even if he’s wearing a suit. Adults aren’t always right.

I know, right, was all I could come up with.

This might be her last year—maybe two if we’re lucky. Her brother is two years younger, and I imagine that if she doesn’t tell him once she finds out, then she will sit arms crossed by the Christmas tree tired and scornful—angry that her brother woke her up at six in the morning for not-magic.

Like many parents last week I hugged my kids until they squirmed from my arms. I tried not to let them see me cry every time I thought of the families of the victims of Newtown, Connecticut. I obsessively worried about my kids at school; I took them late one day this week because I couldn’t bear to let them go. At some point I had to tell them what had happened. My daughter was saddened by this, but my son simply replied that it was sad but couldn’t Santa bring them back to life. He would ask Santa. After all, he’s magic, Mom.

And this is where I have to ask myself if I did the right thing. Was it a good thing that I allowed them to believe in magic? In the kindness of a goodly old man? In non-unionized elves and flying reindeer? Things that will seem all too silly when they know. And the answer I come up with again and again is yes. Yes, Virginia it is okay to believe in something that isn’t real.

I am glad that my son believes those kids in Newtown can run back into the arms of their mommies and daddies. That, in his mind, they will get up while it is still dark and shake their parents awake. Look, Mom. Santa came! That those families will sit around their trees, happy and complete, ripping open gifts, shrieking and crying, kissing and hugging as though there would never be a day more joyous. I am thankful that this is what he believes. Believing in it makes it real, and isn’t that what childhood is about?

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