Her tiny face crumpled into a million pieces and she started bawling and wrenching backwards in my arms. My 1-year-old had come face-to-face with Santa Claus — or a guy with black hair peeking out from his white wig — and he wreaked of tobacco. We were at work, I always brought my kids in, and it was December. But I had not expected one of our magazine drivers to show up in a red velvet suit and high-pitched, “Ho-ho-ho’s.” Santa’s wife, also a magazine driver, wasn’t dressed in velvet, but she was there, and hopping mad. A bunch of us had abandoned our desks to see Santa Claus because, well, he was in the house!
As soon as my baby girl started crying, Santa’s wife started cackling. Rough and ticked off for some reason, she was just as frightening as Santa to my child. The woman thrust her face toward my little girl and cried, “That’s right, cry! Cry! His face makes ME cry, too!” Looking back, it’s funny, but then it was awful.
I whisked back to my desk, shielding my girl from the raunchy scene. Soon enough she was munching Cheerios, but her eyes remained full.
You DO have to be ready for moments like that. Like if your child melts down at the mall when you’re trying to do Santa photos. Or just for the sheer number of Santa Clauses in the world. But I never once thought that I should tell my child that Santa isn’t real. Why would I do that? Santa is everywhere in December. On TV, in movies, in stores, at events, even flipping advertising signs on street corners. Santa provides an important childhood rite of passage.
For me, it wasn’t traumatic to learn that Santa was actually my mom and dad. I had figured that out for myself, so I didn’t have a confrontational moment or a thought that my parents lie to me or anything like that. My parents got into the myth and magic of Santa and made our home very merry. Some things in life aren’t worth canceling and Santa is one of them. We need more joy and silly fun in homes these days, so I won’t buy that Santa is a lie. At worst, he’s an actor. At best, he indulges the childhood imagination that blurs the line between fantasy and reality, making it easy for children to believe. As kids get older, their brains will connect the dots about the reality of the situation.
Childhood can provide magical moments with dressing up and make believe or ones wrapped up in parental realities. Believing in Santa isn’t lying to your children, unless you choose to plant that stake in the ground. But why not enjoy the mythology? Why not allow the mystery to take ahold of your hearts for yourself and your kids? Why get in the way of the joy?
When your child asks, “Are you Santa?” Why don’t you get a twinkle in your eye and let out a solid, “Ho, ho, ho!” and ask your child, “Well, what do you think?” And just leave it at that. Lighten up and let the good times roll!