Like all parents of little ones, I was well aware that with the hanging of my child's first Christmas stocking, I took one step closer to "the day of reckoning," when the truth about the jolly fella in the red suit would be unmasked, and change Christmas for my family forever .
I sought to keep Santa alive for my youngest son, Matt, for as long as I could. Thus, when Matt was a little boy, Santa mailed him personal letters, Mrs. Claus baked him chocolate chip cookies, and Matt posed for annual photographs with Santa. Each Christmas Eve, Matt sprinkled "reindeer dust," a combination of oatmeal and glitter, upon the ground so it would sparkle in the light of Rudolph' nose, and safely guide the landing. Matt discovered undeniable "proof" of Santa's existence when Santa's sleigh bells (price tag removed, of course) "fell" down the chimney into our fireplace. All of this filled Matt with great, infectious joy. As the passing years drew "The Day of Reckoning" closer, however, I began to question my part in the holiday myth. Had I gone overboard? I wondered. Would my overzealous approach make the inevitable moment of truth harder than it had to be?
When Matt returned from school one afternoon visibly upset, I sensed Father Time was about to demand payment for my well-intentioned Christmas excess.
"The kids at school said Santa isn't real! I want the truth!" Matthew bluntly demanded.
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I had no choice but to face the issue head-on.
"What do YOU think, Matt?" I asked in an attempt to allow his feelings to guide my response.
"I want to believe!" He said. "But how can a grown man come down the chimney? Tell me NOW. Does Santa exist?"
My stomach twisted into knots; my seasonal, white lies lined up to haunt me. If I bent the truth again, Matt would find it difficult to forgive me when the secret of Santa's existence eventually came to light. But how could I admit to my son that the jolly guy he loved so much was fictional? Suddenly, the "Santa myth" seemed like a major deception rather than a happy tradition.
I looked into my son's eyes, and memories of past holidays brushed across my heart. I once again saw a little tot in big-bird slippers struggling to balance Santa's tray of cookies with shaky, tiny hands. I blinked. That little boy was gone.
I took a deep breath, held Matt's hand, and said, "No, Matthew. Santa doesn't exist."
The dam broke; a torrent of tears spilled forth. I wanted to sob, too, but it wasn't the time for mother's tears.
"Matt," I said."You're old enough now to hear the truth about Santa Claus. Santa isn't a real person. There is no Christmas village at the North Pole, no Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer. But the magic that story created for you is real. Santa sprang out of love for children, love for celebration. The happiness you felt when you believed Santa brought you gifts, or sent you letters, is still there. All the goodness Santa brought to you each Christmas can still be there because Santa is a feeling. Santa is love. If you hold onto that feeling, Santa becomes real."
I crossed my fingers and hoped his young mind could wrap itself around that concept.
Matt contemplated my admission.
"Who put the presents under the tree?" He queried.
"Daddy and I did."
"Who ate Santa's cookies?"
"Where did the sleigh bells in the fireplace come from?
"The craft store."
"Who answered my letters to Santa?"
He sniffled. The tears slowed to droplets. He said no more.
"Do you understand, Matt?" I asked.
He nodded, a clear signal that his interrogation was over, and I was dismissed.
I sadly stood in the hallway, somewhat shaken; the days of Matt sitting on Santa's knee had ended so abruptly. Should I have told Matt the truth about Santa long ago? Was Matt upset? Confused? My mother's imagination went wild. I envisioned Matt crying himself to sleep, or recounting this "damaging childhood episode" to a psychologist sometime in the future. Though I had explained to Matt that the Christmas feeling is real, I couldn't deny that a little Christmas magic…a bit of my son's innocent childhood…faded along with the Santa fantasy.
"Hey, Mom!" Matt shouted. "Come here!"
Uh oh. I ran to his room, expecting fresh tears.
But he wasn't crying.
"All that Christmas stuff Santa did for me was really you and Daddy?" He asked.
"Yes, dear," I nodded.
He broke into a surprising smile.
"Thank you, Mommy! Thank you for doing all that just for me! You must really love me!"
Matt kissed my cheek, and ran downstairs to play video games.
You could have knocked me over with Santa's beard! I was stunned, close to tears, but I held back; crying would make more of the situation than Matthew could comprehend. He wouldn't understand my emotion until the day he had kids of his own.
"The Day of Reckoning," that unavoidable turning point in any family's holiday pursuits, came, and went, without incident. The truth was out. Matt understood, and accepted it. His Christmas spirit, and my own, survived in tact. And what do you know? The very thing I feared…the truth about Santa Claus…had made a lasting impression on my son…and saved the day.