A couple of years ago, I watched and listened in amazement as a 1st grader in my classroom argued with her 2nd grade classmates (I had a mixed class of 1st/2nd graders) that Santa Claus really existed. It was a rather amusing debate as this single girl tried to convince the three or four girls surrounding her that Santa was real. The arguments against his existence were quite brutal, offered by the prosecution as mere irrefutable fact, the words pummeling the tiny first grader almost to tears. That’s when she turned with those sad eyes and asked me if Santa was real, a last ditch effort to save face and have anyone (especially one with such authority) stand by her and convince those mean girls what she knew was the truth all along.
“Of course there’s a Santa Claus,” I said matter-of-factually without missing a beat. The look on the little girl’s face was priceless – vindication at last. That statement however was met by howls of laughter, denial and ridicule directed at me! The guffaws and the finger pointing at me was not cool. A grown man being verbally assaulted by 2nd grade girls was not a pretty sight.
Years later I became a father to a beautiful little girl who is very sharp, intelligent, and very innocent and just a tad naive at times. A perfectly normal child at her age. As she got older, the existence of Santa Claus was never questioned but she did have just a little doubt. Being in the 3rd grade, I didn’t want her to face ridicule by her classmates just as my student faced so many years ago. I didn’t want them thinking my little girl being childish or naive. It’s a very cruel world out there and I wanted her to hang on as long as possible to the belief that there was indeed a jolly fat man who’s grand benevolence and kindness ushered in happiness to millions of kids all over the world on this one magical night.
Inevitably, she would know the truth that Santa Claus was not real. But when would that take place? Who would be the one to shatter that strongly held and cherished belief? Growing up in the Dominican Republic, there was no Santa Claus, only the three wise kings. They were the ones that left presents under your bed, not Santa. And I remember quite vividly waking up one morning and seeing the floor of our bedroom covered in colorful little toy cars! But when I got to the states at the age of 7, Santa Claus was just as alien to my brother and I as flying reindeer. There was no one to shatter that myth because we simply did not believe from the get-go. I don’t remember at all when I stopped believing in the three wise kings leaving presents for my brother and I but I can tell you with certainty that it was another child that bluntly told us the truth. Which child would break my daughter’s heart? It was only a matter of time.
I decided that I wanted her to know the truth on my terms and not in some classroom or in the playground where other kids wouldn’t be so hesitant to hold back any punches. I wanted her to hear it from me. I thought long and hard on my approach and it wasn’t easy. I dreaded the conversation but I knew that it had to be done. I then did the unthinkable one afternoon.
I told her that Santa Claus wasn’t real.
She took the news rather well but I could tell that she was heartbroken. I told her that Santa really existed within everyone. He came to light through our actions and always resided within our hearts. I explained that the kindness we showed others by giving our time, money, or gifts to those in need or to loved ones, proved that Santa Claus was very real indeed. Somehow I don’t think she really bought that explanation. It was too “out there” for her, an abstract concept that she just couldn’t put into words.
“But I put out milk and cookies for Santa. Who ate the cookies?” she asked. “I did,” I admitted sheepishly. Yeah, not one of my better moments.
I must admit that a little bit of me died on that day. I had crushed a little girl’s dreams of Santa Claus and it didn’t feel good at all. However, I was smug in the fact that at least she wouldn’t be subjected to ridicule by other kids for believing.
Unbeknownst to me last Christmas, my wife did some slight of hand trickery which convinced my daughter that Santa was real. One moment she was in the bathroom on Christmas Eve brushing her teeth and the next moment, a bunch of presents appeared under the Christmas tree! I have no idea where I was during this miraculous “visitation” but it was enough to make my daughter a true believer again.
On this Christmas eve, my daughter put out milk and cookies with little notes for Santa. I felt very good again at seeing her exuberance and anticipation. My daughter was very excited as she went to bed tonight. She had even written a letter to Santa days before asking for that toy she’s been wanting for months. She saw presents under the tree from the both of us but she knew that Santa would come along and give her that extra, special gift.
If you’re a parent, do you remember when was the last time your child stopped believing in Santa Claus? And if he or she still believes, what are your thoughts on it? Do I believe in Santa? I suppose the answer is yes. It feels good believing in him and most importantly, it feels even more wonderful upon seeing that glee on my daughter’s face.
Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, and happy Kwanza to all!