“Dad, are you and mom Santa?”
The words surprised even myself when they came flying out of my fourth grade mouth there in the storeroom of my father’s small town shoe store in Central New York. (I had planned to build slowly into a carefully worded inquiry, and this was more like a gas line explosion).
“Yes,” he replied.
There it was. And just like that, a little Christmas magic evaporated, or so I thought.
It wasn’t long after, when I was yet again hanging out in the store with him on a frigid, snowy Saturday morning, when I heard a commotion outside on the sidewalk, which soon grew louder and eventually spilled into the place.
There, in full regalia was The Man himself, smiling and shaking his belly and loudly ho-ho-ho’ing, surrounded by a small mob of adoring toddlers and beaming parents. Everyone in the room was all freakin’ holly jolly—everyone except for me. Armed with my new knowledge of “the truth” about Santa, I found the whole thing all quite laughable and responded by parking myself in the doorway to the storeroom and stood there, arms crossed and eyes rolling in mocking disapproval as all those naive, gullible suckers lapped up the Christmas deception.
Then I realized that as he spoke with the children he noticed me there hidden away trying not to be seen and he tried to include me in the conversation, but I was having none of it. My Dad tried to coerce me to engage the him as well, which only pushed me closer to the exit and magnified my discomfort. Santa eventually began moving toward me, and again invited me to share something I wanted from him this year. My face grew hot, my pulse quickened, and panic skyrocketed in me. Finally, unable to endure any more, I turned and bolted into the back room and jumped into a giant box and waited for this yuletide nightmare to pass.
Then it happened.
As I crouched there in the dark, the lid to the box slowly opened, and as the light streamed in I found myself looking up directly into the face of old Saint Nick himself
I barely breathed.
He bent down and in gentle, hushed tones started to speak.
“I know you think I’m not real”, he began.
I couldn’t say anything.
He went on, “Well, you can believe that Santa isn’t real, or you can believe that he is the goodness and love that live inside your mother and father, who care so much for you that they want to give you beautiful memories and some magic at Christmas. Maybe that is worth believing in?”
He smiled, dropped the mic, and walked out. I think I sat in that box for what seemed like an hour—and I came out differently. I came out with my magic returned.
This time of year I hear people talk about the dangers of the Santa Lie; that it teaches kids it’s okay to be dishonest, that it dissolves trust between them and their parents, that it promotes materialism, that it elevates something above God during the holidays.
Three and a half decades later, as a father of two children (an eight-year old who is fully sold on the man with the bag, and an eleven-year old who still has just enough curiosity and innocence left to want to believe), I fully embrace the Santa Lie.
Looking back on those early years of my childhood, they were such magical times, so filled with warmth and expectancy and joy. They are deeply woven into the soft fabric of my memories and they are moments I keep pressed close to my heart, especially now that my father is gone.
And though those days were so very special, once I learned the truth about Santa, I certainly didn’t resent my parents, believing they to pull the wool over my eyes for a decade. I didn’t feel as though I’d been duped for my entire childhood or became less trusting of them after; no just the opposite. I treasured the effort and the time and the energy they expended every year to give me and my brothers and sister something beautiful and sweet and worth remembering. I thought about them shopping and wrapping and sacrificing and scheming and planning (and lying)—and I felt such gratitude for them. I still do.
I love giving that gift to my children now. In a world where kids have to grow up so quickly, where they are forced to hear so much that is terrible and worrisome before they ever should, I’m grateful to be able to give them something children are so starved for: wonder. It is one of my greatest joys as a parent.
So my wife and I do it up royally. We fully and repeatedly and unapologetically cultivate the Santa Lie and we treasure every year our children still believe it. Soon they won’t, and then hopefully they too will appreciate what we’ve done with great tenderness and love for them. And if one day they happen to have children of their own, maybe they’ll pay the magic forward with them too.
As for me, I’m so grateful for parents who lied to me—who gave me a childhood filled with memories and warmth and wonder, and I am so honored to lavish the same on my children.
And I’m especially grateful for a strange man with a white beard and a big red suit who told a jaded kid in a cardboard box, just what is worth believing in and being thankful for.
Maybe he was just some dude in a costume, or maybe…
(Come to think of it, after he left that day I think I heard sleigh bells and hooves on the roof.)
Thank you, Santa.