Santa Purgatory

English: Thomas Nast's most famous drawing, &q...

English: Thomas Nast’s most famous drawing, “Merry Old Santa Claus”, from the January 1, 1881 edition of Harper’s Weekly. Thomas Nast immortalized Santa Claus’ current look with an initial illustration in an 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly, as part of a large illustration titled “A Christmas Furlough” in which Nast set aside his regular news and political coverage to do a Santa Claus drawing. The popularity of that image prompted him to create another illustration in 1881. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I learned the ghastly truth about Santa Claus in the first grade. I’m pretty sure I even remember which one of my female classmates told me, clearly intending it to be an emotional earthquake. I say that with confidence because even through the haze of thirty-three years’ distance, I remember feeling a need to play it cool because she was trying to get a rise out of me.

I was taken aback, but it did not crush me, because I was already well aware that other girls had much bigger Christmases than I did, and it made perfect sense to me to think that the difference in our parents’ incomes, and not the whim of some big guy in a red coat, was what made that difference.

Christian found out in the fourth grade, and it ruined Christmas for at least a year.

Alex is in the third grade. He’s asking probing questions about the nature of Jesus, and reality and fiction have been completely separated for over two years, except in this area. I’ve been punting all Santa questions to my husband in that time, because Christian was the one who thought we ought to let it continue. I am tremendously ambivalent about this whole Santa thing. “Christian,” I said this fall, “it crushed you because you believed too long. He’s starting to act like a tween. This is ridiculous. We need to get out ahead of it.”

“All right, I’ll have a conversation with him,” he said…but he’s been procrastinating waiting for Alex to bring it up for six weeks.

So last week, Alex asked at the top of his lungs, “IS RUDOLPH REAL?”

I looked pointedly at my husband, who sighed and sent me upstairs with the three little ones so he and Alex could have The Conversation. I tried to keep an ear out, but since I was also trying to make sure the noise level upstairs covered the revelation being imparted downstairs, I missed most of it. The gist of it was that he tried to let Alex down easy, using this book The Autobiography of Santa Claus, which does, I must say, a lovely job of covering every base. At the end, Santa talks about how kids realize even he can’t give gifts to every person in the world, so at some point they decide to give up their Santa gifts so someone else can have them.

“That doesn’t sound like you really told him,” I said dubiously, when we talked it over later.

“We talked about it,” he said. “We’ve started the process.”

I sighed and let it go, because maybe he’s right that slow and incremental is the middle ground between holding onto the magic and being crushed because it lasted too long.

Yesterday evening, though, we were watching Santa Claus is Coming To Town with the kids, and Alex, who is deep into the Autobiography, looked at Nicholas knowingly and said, “Just so you know, this isn’t really how it happened.”

“Uh…” I said, caught between the child who’s supposed to know and the one we’re trying to preserve the magic for, “Nobody really knows…”

Santa knows,” Alex said. “And I’m reading his autobiography. That’s what an autobiography is. Right?”

Speechless, I looked at my husband, who looked at me helplessly. I said to him said softly, “I don’t think that conversation ‘took’.”

He shrugged. “What can I say? I tried.”

Good grief. I’m in Santa Purgatory. Come on, some mouthy third grader, can’t you put me out of my misery?

(We’re going to see Santa tonight. I swear if the “is he the real one” conversation comes up, I’m just going to tell him already.)

15 thoughts on “Santa Purgatory

  1. Stephanie Butz

    We told our two older kids when they were 10. By then each of them said they had already known since they were 8. They didn’t want to spoil it for us or for themselves. Our youngest is going to be 10 in 2 days. I know that he knows the truth, but I won’t actually tell him until after Christmas this year. It was such a struggle with the older 2 because we didn’t know if we were doing the right thing, and now with our youngest, I am excited to get it all out in the open so that we can all be on the same page. Christmas shopping will be easier and we won’t have to “sneak” so much. I think when the kids know the truth, they appreciate the “stuff” they get so much more because they know it’s not easy for us to provide all of that “stuff”.

    • Yes, it’s really hard when they’re not all on the same page…but even worse when I’m not entirely sure *where* the one stands! 🙂 Thanks for sharing–maybe after Christmas is a good time.

  2. Danielle

    I am so conflicted about this. The lie seems silly in so many ways. Why do we do this? What does it do to trust issues? But… I jumped on the bandwagon b/c I didn’t feel bold enough as a new parent to make this my issue and now we are in it. I draw the line at elf on the shelf and all that… Anyway, Alex reminds me of me a bit… A bright sensitive kid who wants the world to have that kind of magic and innocence. I was also crushed in 4th grade when a TEACHER told me the truth. It did change Christmas forever. Not sure how we will handle this all with the girls. Good luck!

  3. I don’t really remember when/how I found out, but I’m sure I suspected for a long time… I mean, how else could it be that the tags that said “From Santa” and “From Mom and Dad” were the same handwriting and the wrapping paper was all the same? Personally, I’d love to throw out the whole Santa notion. Not sure where we will land on this when it comes our turn, but I do know we won’t get to be the only ones making that decision. It’s so wrapped up in family traditions, how would we deal with it when going over to the grandparents’ houses even if we decided not to go along with the whole Santa thing… tricky.

  4. I remember exactly where I was when I had that conversation with my oldest son — he remembers it too. It was very traumatic for both of us. Enjoy purgatory, it sounds like you’re dealing with a pure soul.

  5. dottie

    I was happy to hear that there wasn’t a Santa Claus. My friend always got so much more than I did. I figured Santa didn’t like me as much or he thought I was “bad.” I don’t remember how old I was. I didn’t tell my children that Santa was real. I told them it was fun to act like he was real just like they believed their little cars were real. They didn’t seem like they were upset by any of this. Thank heavens.

  6. I found out at about 10. I was crushed. That Christmas was ruined. But I was the oldest of 4 and I did enjoy keeping it going for the younger ones.
    My boys found out earlier than I did from someone at school. They kept asking me questions so I knew it was time. They were disappointed but not crushed.
    I think the magic of Santa Claus is a good thing. Let them stay kids as long as possible. We try to make them grow up too fast.
    I did not have much of a childhood. I had to grow up way too young. But there was always Santa. I was able to hold onto that part of childhood.

  7. Holly

    Brett’s in 6th grade and I’m sure he knows he’s not real but I think he’s holding on to it. The other day he said he was going to stay up all night at Christmas to see of it is really us delivering the presents! My mom thinks he will be devestated when he REALLY finds out. Guess I want him to be a kid for as long as I can keep him that way.

  8. Carrie Evans

    One of my very favorite Christmas stories is a New York Sun editorial called, Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus. I am pretty sure my 10 year old knows. He has been talking about it, but we haven’t discussed it. In our house, the rule is that if you don’t believe, Santa won’t come. All 5 of my 10-16 year olds would say they believe. We have found ways to become Santa for others as the kids have gotten older. Last year, we dropped off some food May basket style and you can bet I wasn’t running!! (I drove the get away car). As a child, Santa came when we were at church with all of our friends and family. I think I was 30 before Mom told me how that worked.

  9. My parents had someone in the red suit come over Christmas Eve with the toys. That was back in the day before Christmas Eve kids Masses and Mom didn’t want to take a bunch of toy-hyped kids to Mass. When I was in fourth grade, our teacher told us it wasn’t true. Not long thereafter I lost a tooth and my dad handed me a quarter; guess the tooth fairy wasn’t real either.

    When my big kids were little we had someone wear the suit and pass out the gifts at my folks house. Great entertainment for the adults. My autistic son was in fifth grade and still hadn’t started to question. His sister was in second grade. My son started creating really elaborate explanations for how it could work and finally we concluded that at his age he’d be laughed at and needed to be told the truth. That year we put my husband in the suit and told the kids Santa was at Grandma and Grandpa’s (we were across the backyards at my brother’s). They came over and saw my husband in the suit. They didn’t seem traumatized.

    This year my nine year old asked,and I read her this book I think she “got” it and we talked about it some more when we wrapped gifts for the giving tree from church.

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