When my eldest daughter was six, she asked me if Santa was real. In that split second, in which we make our most celebrated of parenting decisions, I decided it was ridiculous to push the Santa story when I had already told my children I didn't believe in God. God and Santa... both ever present, all knowing, watchful of bad behaviour, bestowing of gifts (or not), used for the purposes of bribery, big in December. They are anachronistic fairy tales in our truth-seeking age.
I responded by asking my daughter what she thought given the evidence, and when she allowed the smallest opportunity for me to sow the seed of knowledge, I indulged my need to tell the truth, and her innocence was gone. Eve had bitten into the apple. Mr. Claus was busted.
For the next couple of days we were okay with this new piece of information. My daughter felt privileged to be let in on a 'grownup' secret, and we continued to perpetuate the full-blown flying reindeers and supersonic sleigh myth for my three-year-old. Santa would still deliver presents on Christmas Eve, but wink wink, it would be Mummy and Daddy sneakily stuffing their stockings. All the fun, none of the B.S.
Then the inevitable happened. My daughter had knowledge vital to her peer group; topical, confronting, myth-busting, wide-eyed-in-amazement kind of information. So she did what any six-year-old would do with the delicious power that comes from having such wisdom: she told her friends, who told their parents.
The backlash wasn't too horrific. The parents who asked me if it was true that I had outed Santa -- thereby crushing their own children's imagination and stealing their childhoods -- were not particularly confrontational or aggressive.
But in talking with them about how the exposé occurred, I started to question my motives and reconsider the decision I made in that split second to equate my honesty about my thoughts on God with challenging my daughter's belief in a benign fairy story.
When discussing my views on religion with the kids, I am always careful to do so in an open-minded, non-judgemental way. I have never told them what is expected of them regarding a belief system (or lack thereof), instead being honest about my views and advising them that it is important to have all the facts, to always question, to come to their own conclusions. But an all-encompassing belief in God is not the same as a seasonal appreciation of St. Nick.
Santa is the Christmas mascot for the secular among us -- he carries minimal religious baggage. He is a thing of wonder, and his many strange proclivities (using chimneys to gain access to our houses, visiting a billion kids in one night, his ability to know one's sleeping habits, etc.) are a puzzle for children to unravel.
There is undoubtedly pure joy in the anticipation and I felt guilty about my kids missing out on this aspect of childhood. There is no scarring from learning the truth about Santa when a child is ready, but that discovery needs to happen organically. It should not be a premature and hasty decision by a parent over eager to have a mature conversation about life's home truths and stories told to the gullible.
So I wrote a letter to my daughter from Santa, and told her "if you believe in magic and wish something to be true... then magical things really can happen". She devoured the letter, the sentiment, the permission to rejoin the believers, and the wonder of childhood returned in an instant.
Two years and two Christmases later, her wish list has been posted to the North Pole, access issues concerning our chimney-less holiday rental have been resolved, and if she has any doubts, she has readily filed them in the back of her mind.
When my daughter is old enough, I'll tell her about the Christmas we came close to abandoning Santa. I'll tell her about the beauty of her eagerness and preference to trust in magic and how heartwarming it was for me to see her believe again. The innocence of youth withers soon enough, but for now, her need for a childhood fairytale is stronger than my need for a grownup truth.
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