By Bethany Rountree
This year my son believed in Santa Claus.
When my children were born I pondered how to handle the whole Santa Claus thing. Should my husband and I lead them on with stories of St. Nick and hooves on the roof? I loved Christmas, but the idea of trying to get my children to believe in something that was not real bothered me. So when my children got old enough I decided to follow my instincts and level with them. I told them the truth – that Santa was part of the spirit of Christmas. I said there was no real person who was Santa and that he existed in the hearts and minds of everyone who celebrated Christmas, and was in fact the magic of Christmas.
They were satisfied with this. They still went to the Chamber of Commerce and sat on Santa’s knee after he arrived in a fire truck. They still hung stockings. I wanted Christmas to be more than getting gifts, so we also read many books about Mary and Joseph and went to Christmas pageants. A few holiday seasons came and went, each one holding more excitement than the last as the kids got bigger. Even though I felt right about telling the children the truth a nagging thought bothered me. Had I deprived my children of deserved memories of Christmas? By empowering them with the truth, had I taken away their innocence?
This year my son was five. He is our middle child, with a sister ahead of him, and a sister behind. This year we had lots of discussions about Christmas. Signs of Christmas were everywhere. Mary and Joseph were on every lawn as we drove to town. An inflated Santa teetered on top of the courthouse on the square. We decorated our Christmas tree, lit the lights, and listened to holiday music.
My son started asking questions. "Mama, Santa's not real right?”
"Does he really go down the chimney?"
"Well, that is part of the story of Santa."
"Mama, I think I believe a little, and don’t believe a little."
"That’s fine, Ethan."
Ethan and his sisters absorbed countless pieces of information about Christmas this year. They knew the Christmas story, they dressed up and acted out Mary and Joseph traveling to the stable, and they could name the gifts from the three wise men. They also knew the names of all the reindeer, sang Rudolph, watched Frosty and the Grinch on video. On Christmas Eve Ethan decided he was going to write a letter to Santa for the first time.
With my husband’s help Ethan wrote:
I like you.
I want please legos, a vest.
He addressed the envelope and asked where he should put it for Santa.
"Put it in the mudroom," my husband answered casually. "He’ll get it there."
Ethan often lost things, so of course when he went and checked on his letter a few minutes later, it had likely fallen behind something in the mudroom and he couldn’t find it.
Ethan was on the verge of tears. "I can’t find my letter for Santa!"
My husband smiled and didn't miss a beat. "Ethan! That must mean Santa came and got it already!"
Ethan stopped. I watched him closely. He looked at us, his eyes getting wider and his mouth opened. He had the expression of someone who had just witnessed a miracle. "I bet he did!"
My husband turned to me, "Mama, did you see Santa come into the mudroom?"
I played along, amused. "You know, I was working on the computer, so I didn’t notice. But maybe!"
Ethan was already on his way out the door to look for Santa. This is interesting, I thought. He returned in a few minutes. "Mama, I looked in the sky," he said seriously, "and I saw a sleigh. And Rudolph was leading it!"
"Oh, my goodness!"
"And, in the back of the sleigh was a big bag of letters!"
For the rest of the evening Santa was all we heard about. Ethan was completely taken with the idea that Santa had just come and would return later that night to put presents under the tree. He wrote another letter for Santa, asked if we could fill a bucket with water for the reindeer, and when his younger sister started yelling because she saw a spider crawling up the wall, Ethan calmly put his hand on her shoulder and reassured her, "Don’t worry, when Santa comes he will kill it."
My husband chuckled. Our oldest daughter rolled her eyes. But I sat in amazement, smiling lovingly at my son, realizing that my fears were being laid to rest.
I had not spoiled anything. Ethan was reminding me of the one thing I had forgotten, that childhood had a magic of its own, filled with imagination, wonder and awe. I doubted if I had said to Ethan, remember Santa is not real…it would have made any difference. He was off and running in his own world, not stopping to worry about me in my grown up one.
The truth about Santa Claus had not taken away my children’s innocence. The magic of the season was alive and well in our house, as it was in many homes I’m sure, giving children everywhere the chance to believe.
Bethany Rountree is a writer and stay-at-home mom who lives with her husband and their three children, Iris (9), Ethan (7), and Lily (6). Their family lives in the mountains of western North Carolina.