We told Finn and Lucy the truth about Santa. They are only 8 and 6 years old. Which means there will be people reading who will give me wide-eyed looks of horror.
But here’s the thing: We’re going to Orlando for Christmas, and it felt like a hassle to try explain how Santa got a keycard to our room.
Lizzie’s reasoning for it was, thankfully, was slightly more thoughtful.
Her reason was this:
We believe in Jesus. And let’s face it people, this sounds and feels like a fairy tale to a whole lot of people. Having been an atheist for the first 32 years of my life, I know exactly how crazy this Jesus thing sounds.
Because we believe in something in something unseen, Lizzie reasoned, and because the faith of our children is important to us (even as they make their own decisions on it), we decided that it was time to clear up any potential confusion with our kids between Jesus and Santa.
There was a risk, of course. Who doesn’t love the Santa tradition? He’s the best! And nobody outside of Whoville actually wants to kill the magic of Christmas. Hence my nervousness. But we’d made the decision. And once we started the conversation it was like accidentally shoving a piano out a window: Nothing good was coming and you’re just hoping nobody gets crushed.
Here’s how it went:
We sat the kids down in the living room. We first talked about what we really believed, and why the Christmas season was so important. (They already knew, of course.) Then we talked about how, as parents, we wanted something to represent the magic of all that, and Santa was a wonderful representation of what we believe Jesus to be. Santa gives awesome gifts, he focused his attention on every boy and girl enough to supernaturally descend a billion chimneys in one night, he was just pure and good and liked cookies. Kids could get that a little better than some of that old language you sometimes get with the Bible.
Finn was way ahead of us. He pretty much had figured out the whole Santa thing. Lucy had heard rumors but hadn’t believed them, but she didn’t seem particularly sad, more interested in getting the information. (We also made them promise to NEVER tell other kids, and they stuck out their pinkies for Pinky Promise, which is apparently a kind of blood oath for the elementary school set.)
The conversation felt over. I thought we were out of the woods.
We were not out of the woods.
The whole conversation about “We as parents don’t want to keep secrets from you” began to backfire quickly.
Suddenly we were deep into the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, and leprechauns. We were into stories of how their friends had personal experiences with these things, and were their friends lying to them? We were into the mechanics of how we had fooled them with sneaking around in the middle of the night – and now they knew their parents were master thieves and con-artists. They now knew about the stupid Elf on the stupid Shelf.
And now I’m getting more and more nervous about the territory we had stumbled into. But the kids were loving this conversation. They had this look on their faces, like they had just discovered the magical treasure box of Secrets-Parents-Keep and they were now gleefully rummaging around in there like the Monopoly top-hat guy in a chest filled with gold coins, flinging their arms up with delight.
So Liz and I decided, having gone this far, that we should probably go all in.
It was time for the Birds and the Bees.
Again, the reasoning was this: The information they were getting on the school bus was, at best, misguided. Fourth graders of this world – the oldest ones on the bus – apparently believed that they had the market cornered on the human reproductive system. (They do not.)
Thankfully we had a book that our friends recommended to teach us EXACTLY how to talk about this because this one could go WILDLY off the rails. And if you thought I was nervous telling them about Santa, I was practically light-headed as we breezily said “We want to talk to you about where babies come from! Or whatever! No biggie!”
Then we sat them down at the dining room table with so much candy piled in front of them that they could barely see over it. And I just read the book aloud.
Amazingly, they were totally receptive. Also, it turned out to be different than what they had heard from Teddy, the fourth grader on the bus who gave Finn some details on the matter that, frankly, didn’t even make much sense because……well. You can imagine.
When we were done, Liz looked at them and said, “So do you guys have any questions about that?”
Or at least that’s what she told me she said. Because man, I was done. I had finished reading that book and my brain had taken the emergency exit out my ear like the inflatable slide out the side door of an aircraft. It wanted no part of follow up questions.
Liz, the level-headed good parent in these situations, answered their questions thoughtfully with neither embarrassment nor euphemistic phraseology. Because she rocks. And then they ran off to go play.
And me, I felt like Neo in the Matrix, limboing backwards to dodge bullets after that conversation. Victory! Talk finished forever! Santa! Check! Birds! Check! Bees! Check!
Then, this past weekend, they watched Miracle on 34th street.
You know. The one where NOBODY believes in Santa and the parents DEFINITELY don’t believe in Santa but the kids PROVE that Santa exists?
And Finn, after some whisperings with Lucy, pauses the movie and looks at us.
“Are we SURE Santa doesn’t exist?”
“Pretty sure,” I mumbled.
“But you said Jesus performed miracles. That He could do anything, and He created the whole world…”
“Mmmmmm,” I said, now frantically reaching for the remote trying to get the stupid movie to start playing again.
“Couldn’t Jesus make Santa Claus?”
(Sigh.) “Well, technically, He could…”
“So Santa MIGHT be real?”
Finn and Lucy gave each other excited looks. I pressed play on that cursed movie.
I’m glad we were honest with our kids. I’m glad that it’s difficult to truly rob kids of the magic in this world. And maybe in the end that turns out to be a pretty great thing when you believe that there are things like magic in this world. Things that have to be felt instead of seen. Things that bring the kind of joy that can light you up inside like a Christmas tree.