My son believed in Santa Claus until he was in high school.
At first, when we realized he was still believing long after most of his peers, we thought it was sweet. A few years later, we started to worry. What if he was hanging with a bunch of cool teenage guys and mentioned Santa Claus in a way-too serious manner? Not cool.
So we started to drop hints. Asking him what he would like MOM and DAD to get him for Christmas instead of what he’s asking Santa for. Jokingly asking him if he still believed, and then chickening out when he said he did.
Every year, without fail, he insisted we put out cookies and milk. When he was 13, I just happened to be out of cookies on Christmas Eve. He was not amused. I think I ended up making an eleventh-hour run to the Chevron for some Oreos to avoid a complete holiday meltdown.
Honestly, his ability to believe in wonder and goodness is a gift. My son has a very kind and gentle soul. He can’t kill a bug. Santa Claus made perfect sense to him. And I love him for that.
But at the same time, we needed to do something.
You see, we weren’t afraid of him being upset about Santa not being real. We were worried about lying to him.
Think about it: you tell your kids all their lives lying is wrong. And then what do you do? You lie to them for years about some pretty important things. Like Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy. Do we think they’re supposed to forgive us because we’ve been telling them “happy” lies?
In my son’s eyes, a lie is a lie. And this one was a biggie. I knew once the truth came out, we would immediately lose all credibility.
So we tried to break it to him gently. We preferred Santa die a slow death in his mind versus being hit by a truck.
Fast-forward to age 14 and he still hadn’t gotten the message. The problem with this is you don’t really think about it until the holidays, right? And who wants to tell their kid on December 20th there’s no Santa? So you don’t. You ignore the problem and hope it will go away.
On Christmas Eve, he wanted to put out the cookies. He begged, and it being the holidays and all, I caved and let him do it.
In our house, there are presents from mom and dad under the tree before Christmas. But then a “surprise” present — usually unwrapped —shows up on Christmas morning, compliments of Santa.
So my teenage son comes downstairs at 6 a.m. on Christmas morning and is devastated. There’s no surprise present from Santa.
I was exhausted. I took one look at his tear-stained face and thought “I can’t deal with this.”
I woke up my husband, who is NOT a morning person. I told him we had a crisis on our hands, and he needed to handle it.
He got up, tried to wake, and walked out of the room. He’s gone about five minutes. When he returned, I desperately asked, “What did you tell him?”
“I told him he’d been bad,” he said, and went back to sleep.
“You did WHAT?” I cried, somewhere between panic and trying not to laugh. “You told him Santa didn’t leave him a present because he’d been bad?”
I can’t really remember the details after that, but I do recall my son and I having a meaningful talk Christmas evening about how growing up isn’t all that fun after all.
But I never said the words “Santa doesn’t exist.”
So a few days ago we decided we’d better make sure. My son came bounding downstairs headed for the kitchen, and my husband said, “You know the deal about Santa, don’t you?”
“You mean about him not being real?” my son said. “Yeah, but I can’t believe you guys lied to me about it.”
I just rolled my eyes.
Maybe now that Santa’s out of the picture, we can finally have a merry Christmas.