“Mommy, is it you writing Santa’s name on my presents?”
It was dinner time. My seven-year-old son, Cameron, had helped my husband and I decorate our Christmas tree just the day before.
I knew this question was coming, but was I really about to take the magic out of the holidays — and in a pandemic, no less? I hung my head and quietly, honestly, responded: “Yes.”
“You’ve been lying to me my whole life?” my son muttered. He picked up a small wooden ornament shaped like the big guy. “So fake.”
My heart must have shrunk three sizes that day, but I think deep down he knew the truth, too.
It was only five short years ago that my bean was just starting to grasp the concept of Santa Claus (or, as he called him, “Ho ho ho.”) We watched all the classic movies, visited Santa in the mall, and wrote him hopeful letters that always received a handwritten reply (from our friends Amanda and Ryan).
From the beginning, my husband and I had had a “no-lying” parenting policy, and over the years, we really stuck to it. The catch was Cameron had to ask us, first. And he did. He has asked us everything. So we demystified where babies came from at age three. (“No, the mommy’s head doesn’t come off.”) At five, he wanted to know “Can boys become girls?” after a kindergarten convo about transgender people. And earlier this year, at age seven, he learned exactly how much money we were putting away for retirement each month.
On the topic of Santa, however, we were conflicted. We had seriously considered never introducing the concept of Santa to our family to begin with — if only to avoid situations like the one we were facing — but we also didn’t want to deprive our son of the magic that believing in Santa creates. So, onto the bandwagon we hopped.
Cue years of skirting questions: “How does Santa get in our house without a chimney?” and “How do Santa’s reindeer fly?” The easy, no-lying answer was always: “He’s magic!” I wrote Santa gift tags with my left hand, and threw out leftover Santa gift wrap so my very observant son wouldn’t put two and two together. The cloak and dagger, the half-truths — they take a lot out of you.
“If your child is actively questioning the whole “Santa” thing, then maybe it’s time to ’fess up.”
So when he asked me, point blank, whether Santa was real, of course I caved. And parenting policy be damned, I was crushed in the moment. It felt like the end of a wonderfully innocent era, for both myself (who loved getting creative and creating the magic) and my bean.
The cookies on Christmas Eve, the letters to the North Pole, the homemade “reindeer food” of oatmeal and glitter — the threats that Santa won’t bring him anything if he’s naughty — all flashed before my tearful eyes. I remembered finding out the truth myself when I was around his age and feeling devastated, and I worried he felt the same.
I thought my parent-friends would commend my honesty, but after their shocked reactions and gasps of horror, I truly wondered if I’d done the right thing.
“You lie!” they said.
“You tell him kids who don’t believe don’t get presents!” they reasoned.
I turned to the experts. Researchers from Duke University and the University of California say that when it comes to the Santa experience, it’s about taking cues from your child about what makes them happy, and not lying about the magic for your own enjoyment. In other words, if your child is actively questioning the whole “Santa” thing, then maybe it’s time to ’fess up.
That was definitely the case here – if I had perpetuated the Santa tale by lying, I would’ve been delaying the inevitable for my own benefit because I was the one who didn’t want it to end.
After a few weeks of letting it all sink in, Cameron admitted he’s glad we ended the lie. He was excited to be on the “inside” of the Santa ploy, and it gave us something to bond over. I divulged all my Santa secrets, from how I disguised my handwriting to who was behind his yearly letter from Santa. He seems to trust us even more now.
So, do I regret ’fessing up? No. I won’t miss covering my tracks all Christmas long to conceal the truth about Santa, and I’m stoked we can finally take the credit for the good gifts. I admit the timing could have been better, given the pandemic-shaped damper thrown on this season’s festivities, but I’m proud we stuck to our parenting convictions.
Besides, though Santa helped with the holiday warm-and-fuzzies, there are so many other ways to make the holidays fun: rewatching the Christmas classics on movie night, baking sugar cookies for neighbours, setting up our little ceramic village, making cards for seniors, counting down to Christmas (we have six advent calendars), and I even make a Christmas Eve box with holiday PJs, hot chocolate mix and a game.
Christmas can be magical without Santa. And that’s no lie.
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