I was scrolling through Facebook several days ago, with Manchild was standing next to me. “Whoa, wait what is that?” he asked as I passed yet another photo of some friends’ children sitting on Santa’s lap.
I hesitated for a minute, took a breath, and thought.
It seems like a simple question, but the tricky thing is that we don’t encourage Santa. I don’t tell my kids that Santa is coming. I don’t say they’ve got to be good for Santa. I don’t ask them to write lists or send letters. I don’t take them to see Santa.
But I haven’t been able to bring myself to discourage Santa either. I haven’t told them that Santa isn’t real. I haven’t told them the “secret.”
This is mostly because it has been fun to watch them pick up on it and be excited about it. It’s been fun to hear them wonder if Santa would find them in Ohio, or if they needed to send a note to let him know where they would be. I’ve enjoyed listening to them question if Santa lives at the North Pole and ask if Grandma has a fireplace and wonder how Santa would feel if we left juice and crackers rather than cookies and milk. (Micah’s answer: sad.)
Yesterday, we did hear Manchild mention to one of his cousins that he got something from Santa, but that was as far as it went.
Years ago, when we decided not to encourage Santa, I imagined that I’d just be very forthright with it. “Santa doesn’t come down people’s chimney’s. Santa doesn’t have a list. Santa is your dad and me.”
But, like any project that looks simple and straightforward from a distance, it’s a lot more complicated when you’re actually faced with the details of the execution. As we wrapped presents the other night, I found myself wondering if we should use a different wrapping paper, or if they would recognize a box if I reused it, or if they’d notice that they’d seen or help pick out every single thing Little Miss would open.
We didn’t, and they didn’t. We decided that won’t lie to our children, and we’re sticking with it. But we also don’t want to ruin their magic if they want to glory in the illusion. We’ll answer their questions with questions, we’ll let them think things through on their own, we’ll guide them when they want and need our guidance.
There will be a time to talk about fiction, and the truth that fiction can help us understand, and the reasons to perpetuate myths and pass them along to our children.
Now may not be that time. Which is why, when Manchild asked about the Facebook photos, I hesitated. And then I asked, “Do you want to know the truth?”
“Okay. Well, some stores and malls hire men to dress up as Santa so that kids can get their pictures taken with him.”
He looked a little shocked. But then he recovered.
“Do you have any more questions? Anything else you want to talk about?”
He didn’t. I left it alone.