The Day I Learned To Love (And Tell) “The Santa Lie”

santa-claus-hero-2-H
“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.

Humbug.

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.

I believe.

 

 

51 thoughts on “The Day I Learned To Love (And Tell) “The Santa Lie”

  1. Maybe it is a NY thing (having grown up in a hamlet/burg between Buffalo & Rochester) but I so related to your setting the scene as you related your Santa tale.
    Loved what you shared and will be sharing with my grown children who have little ones.
    Wishing you and yours a mystical and joy filled holiday.

  2. Pingback: The Day I Learned To Love (And Tell) “The Santa Lie” | Susanthur Political Observer

  3. I am so glad I read this. My husband and I just welcomed our first little girl into the world back in April, and even though she is too young to understand it this year, it is a question that I have been seriously thinking about; what do I tell my little bear about Santa? Thanks for helping put this into perspective. 🙂

  4. I wonder if you (John Pavlovitz) could possibly dream of a way of creating ‘wonder’ for your kids without lying to them and perpetuating the myth of Santa? Is it possible for a “church reformer” to let go of the mysticism of Santa and find real truth? Are the presents under a tree worth the lies that surround them? Can we not give gifts to friends and family out of gratefulness to Christ, being cheerful in giving to Him and to His Children?

    • It might be possible, but I would question whether it’s necessary. If you’re raising your children to know Christ, I’m not sure Santa is harmful. Santa is, honestly, if we handle him properly, a personification of grace. (We all know about the naughty-or-nice business, but really, what child is uniformly naughty or nice? And in a household that observes Christmas and believes in Santa, what child doesn’t get a gift from Santa?) Teach your kids about Christ, yes. Teach your kids “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” But if you’re doing those things, Santa alongside them is an enhancement to, not a detraction from, the true meaning of Christmas.

  5. I’m of the opinion that Christmas can still be a magical time without believing in Santa Claus. The truth of God and the story of the birth of Christ, the wise men, etc, is the supernatural origin behind Christmas, and still causes wonder, excitement and amazement today to both young and old. This, in my honest opinion, is more awesome than the fairytale of Santa, and far surpasses it. You can’t get around the fact that at some point children are going to realize it was all a charade and are going to be disappointed, as I was. I’m not so certain a well-meaning lie justifies it. Nonetheless, Christmas is a magical time, and I believe that’s the way God intended it to be. Merry Christmas!

    • I wasn’t disappointed, nor did I feel betrayed or anything else negative when I realized the truth about Santa. I’d outgrown it, and so it was something I set aside, just like I had once set aside my blankie. We were taught from the very beginning about Jesus and so we knew what we were celebrating at Christmas. (At the very end of the kids’ Christmas program at church, Santa arrived, and everybody got a candy cane.) Santa didn’t detract from our understanding the real meaning of Christmas, and I don’t see any reason to ban him from our children’s celebrations. There is a difference between a story and a lie, and I think kids are smart enough to understand that.

  6. I’m of the opinion that Christmas can still be a magical time without believing in Santa Claus. The truth of God and the story of the birth of Christ, the wise men, etc, is the supernatural origin behind Christmas, and still causes wonder, excitement and amazement today to both young and old. This, in my honest opinion, is more awesome than the fairytale of Santa, and far surpasses it. You can’t get around the fact that at some point children are going to realize it was all a charade and are going to be disappointed, as I was. I’m not so certain a well-meaning lie justifies it. Nonetheless, Christmas is a magical time, and I believe that’s the way God intended it to be. Merry Christmas!

  7. For me, it wasn’t the idea that my parents were lying to me that caused damage. I figured out that Santa wasn’t real pretty early on, but I could tell how much it meant to my mom that I believed. So I spent several years lying to my parents that I still believed. And I learned that it was actually really easy to lie to my parents.

    So when my kids were born, I never lied to them. We told them from the beginning that Santa was the fun, pretend part of Christmas, and Jesus was the real part of Christmas. We told them that some parents didn’t tell their kids that Santa was real, and they shouldn’t be the spoiler. We never took them to sit on Santa’s lap (that was always a bit traumatic for me anyway — when else do you put a little girl on a strange man’s lap?), we never took photos with Santa, the only year we had presents from Santa was when my daughter specifically requested it, so we changed some labels.

    Did we go too far? Maybe. But Christmas was a difficult time for me growing up, and I needed to purge as much of my childhood Christmases as I could to give my kids a good Christmas each year.

    I fully expect my kids to go full Santa with their own kids when the time comes.

  8. My children’s belief in the literal existence of Santa ceased because at a certain age they were trying to sort out the difference between fiction and reality. Is this TV show true? No, that’s a movie. This is the news; it’s true. So is this documentary. This book is a story. This one is non-fiction. So we got to Santa Claus, and I was asked, is this true or a story? I had never before told my children something that I knew wasn’t true, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it this time. I said it was a story. And they nodded, put Santa into the right category, and went on asking about other things.

    We still “did” Santa – we just all knew it was pretending. It was a game we all played together, and we had lots of fun doing it. I felt we even had more fun than if it’d been important to maintain consistency, cos we could just change things a bit if we thought they sounded more interesting that way.

    I did tell my children not to tell any other children that Santa was a story. Some parents, I said, thought it would spoil Christmas for their kids if they knew Santa wasn’t a real person. My children were indignant – that was lying! Well, it was, but those parents felt they were doing the best thing.

    My now-adult children say they’re glad I never let them believe something that wasn’t true. Maybe the underlying question is about love. The message they got from my not being willing to do that was that I loved them. The people commenting here who appreciated their time of believing understood that their parents did it because they loved them. Perhaps *what* you tell your kids about Santa matters less than what they conclude about why.

  9. I don’t remember when or how I found out the “truth” about Santa and I don’t harbor any sadness about finding out or disappointment in my parents for instilling a sense of wonder for as long as they could. I don’t feel that they lied to me and I believe, as do others, that I had just outgrown it. What I do and will always remember is the fellowship of church with carols and then the wonderment of going to sleep, the stocking empty on my bedpost and waking up to it brimming with little gifts, nuts, rock candy on a stick, tangerines and an onion in the toe (because Santa knows kids can’t be all good, all the time). I remember coming downstairs to not only the presents under the tree from family which were wrapped in holiday paper, but to the special presents wrapped in plain white tissue with red curling ribbon which meant they were from Santa. We were monetarily, very poor growing up, but we were richly blessed with an imaginative, creative, resourceful mother and a supportive dad, and their love and joy is what I remember from the Santa story.

Comments are closed.