When I was about five or six years old, I was lying awake one Christmas Eve, too excited to sleep. And I heard my mom on the phone with her twin sister. I will always remember what it felt like to hear those words: “Ray is putting together Gina’s Barbie Townhouse.” And at that moment, I knew. I spent the rest of my childhood not believing. And you know what? That was sad.
I never told my parents I heard – I was afraid I’d get in trouble for being awake that late, so for years they thought I believed when I didn’t. The Christmas season was stressful for me. Adults always like to ask kids about Santa – Is he coming? What is he bringing? Have you seen him yet? And every one of those questions made me feel awful. And Christmas mornings? Oh MAN, they were tough. My parents could never understand why I didn’t jump excitedly out of bed like most kids. They would have to wake me up and practically drag me downstairs.
Most of the discomfort came from the pretending, rather than the lack of Santa, but not all. I was disappointed that he wasn’t real. And I always felt a little left out of the excitement and anticipation that the other kids felt about Santa. The fact is (for me at least) a Christmas without Santa is a Christmas without magic. And I like my Christmases magical.
So, when it came time to have kids of my own, I knew I wanted to make sure their Christmases were magical, and that meant seeing to it that Santa was real to them for as long as they were willing to believe. So I had my first child and Christmas was magical again. My son believed longer than I actually expected him to, and every year I waited for the inevitable.
Then, finally it came – The Talk. No, not that Talk, the other Talk. The Santa Talk. To be honest, the year before, I really wasn’t sure that he believed. I figured he was just keeping quiet about it just in case. He had asked me once if Santa was real, and I gave him the “what do you think?” He said yes, so I said yes and that was that.
Then the next year, about a month before Christmas, he asked again and we had basically the same exchange, but it became clear that he was doubting things a bit. Then, maybe a week later, after everyone else had gone to bed, he came out and asked me again. I tried the “what do you think” response again, but he looked me right in the eye and said, “Mom, I really want to know. I need you to tell me the truth.” And I had to. And it broke my heart into a million little Christmas shaped pieces. I mean, I knew he wouldn’t believe forever, and I didn’t want him to be the kid who got teased for believing, but it’s so hard to let go.
I explained the origins of St. Nicholas, and gave him the spiel about the spirit and magic of Christmas. And I think there was a little part of him that was relieved. But the other part? The little boy who was growing up way too fast for my liking? That part cried. I don’t think it was disappointment as much as it was the finality of it – the end of the magic. But whatever the reason, he cried his heart out and said he wished he never asked, and the million little Christmas shaped pieces of my heart broke into a million more.