When I became a mother, I never wanted to pretend to be Santa Claus.
I didn’t want to participate in the big lie. Instead of magic, I thought the Santa myth was a bunch of overrated bologna. It didn’t make sense to me to buy presents for my kids and then pretend that some fictional character had actually given those gifts. I didn’t want to put my kids on a stranger man’s lap. And I never wanted to convince them that someone would sneak into our house at night while we were sleeping and knew if they had been naughty or nice. The whole pseudo-omniscience thing just really didn’t sit well with me.
I didn’t want anything to do with Santa. Or his sleigh. Or his reindeer. Or any of it. But it turned out, this whole Santa thing actually had very little to do with me.
For the first few years, our new little family hung stockings on the stairs. And while on Christmas Eve, I stuffed presents into them but my husband and I told my son that those gifts were from us. And that the stocking was only a fun way to get your presents on Christmas morning. When my son pointed out Santa Claus’s appearing on TV or in the mall, I would nod and correct him, “Yes, that’s a Santa. It’s someone who is dressed up like Santa.”
This way of dealing with Santa worked well when Wolfy was two and three years old. He took my explanation at face value, accepted it, and moved on to whatever question popped into his mind next.
But last Christmas, when Wolfy was four years old, something changed.
He started asking a lot of questions about Santa. I kept reminding him that Santa wasn’t a real person, that he was an imaginary creation much like a dragon or a unicorn. But Wolfy ignored my responses.
Then, instead of asking questions, he began to tell me about Santa. Apparently, I needed to be educated.
“Santa’s reindeer pull his sleigh through the sky,” Wolfy told me, “So why did he arrive in a fire truck when I saw him downtown?” Still grasping at honesty, I told Wolfy I had no clue and what did he think? “He must have parked his sleigh at the fire station!” Wolfy informed me, delighted to provide his own explanation.
Suddenly, I realized that this whole Santa thing wasn’t about me and my definitions of integrity and honesty. My son is obsessed with real things. He loves reading encyclopedias and he will always choose to watch a nature show rather than an animated movie. But instead of thinking of the obvious answers that would break apart the Santa myth, Wolfy came up with elaborate explanations that left the story intact.
My son wanted to believe.
So I stopped telling him that Santa wasn’t real and almost instantly, he transformed into a true believer. I think it’s creepy how quickly my thoughtful, pragmatic child has been brainwashed by a fairy tale. But I’d rather play the part of Santa than become a Grinch.
I’ve decided to play along. As a reluctant participant, I do the best that I can. I have to fake a lot of my enthusiasm and interest, but I do a damn convincing job of it. I sing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer over and over and over again. I even learned how to play the song on the piano. And last Saturday, I brought Wolfy to sit on the knee of a middle-aged man in a red outfit. There’s a picture in our local paper to prove it. And I helped my son scrawl a note for Santa, which he’s planning to leave it out on Christmas Eve along with a carrot for the reindeer.
In all of this pretending, I’ve transformed too.
At first I was uncomfortable. The whole Santa thing felt really awkward and forced but after seeing how happy it makes my son, I started having a lot of fun. There are some things that I still won’t do: I don’t use Santa as a bribe for good behavior. I won’t make glittery powdered sugar “snow” footprints trailing through my house. And I won’t use one of those new apps to photoshop a picture of Santa into my living room. I no longer judge parents who decide to do these things; it’s just not my style. I’m not someone who has a lot invested in keeping the magic alive. My son is the one who wants to go down this road. I’m just following him on the journey.