North Pole alert: If there are any Santa-loving kids reading over your shoulder, now would be a good time for them to go play somewhere else!
Oh, how vividly I recall the moment my impossibly sweet mother very flatly revealed the cold, hard truth about Santa.
I was 6 or 7 and had recently watched the cartoon TV special based on that famous old newspaper editorial, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” The whole idea of grown-ups making a big deal out of insisting Santa was real gave me a hunch that the opposite was more likely true.
So one day after school, I worked up the nerve to ask my mom The Big Question. “Mommy, is Santa real?”
“No,” she replied, without skipping a beat as she continued washing dishes.
The news didn’t upset me, really, though I was a bit surprised she didn’t break it a little more gently. Thirty years later, when I asked her why she hadn’t spun some sentimental yarn about how Santa does exist -- as the spirit of giving that makes the holidays such a wonderful time of year -- she cringed through a smile and said, “I just thought you were ready to know the truth.”
There are no doubt lots of little ones -- ready or not -- are asking their moms and dads The Big Question this year.
In a New York City suburb, it’s thanks to a second-grade teacher who caused a stir when she told her students that Santa wasn’t real and that it is moms and dads who stuff those stockings and buy all those presents. In Chicago, it’s because of a news anchor’s primetime pronouncement that parents should give up the Santa fib as soon as kids can talk. The anchor issued a prompt on-air apology, but it did little to tame the rage of the masses calling for her to be fired.
“What she did was unthinkable,” Terry A. Hoop, of Mankato, Minn., wrote on Facebook. “She has destroyed the hopes and dreams of all the little ones at this magical time of year.”
A few brave souls countered that she’d done the right thing by telling the truth, only to be shouted down by hundreds more insult-laden screeds calling her “self-absorbed” and “heartless.”
And how do level-headed parents react when an adult – whether well-intentioned or clueless – has burst the Santa bubble? A survey of online parenting message boards finds passionate rants about why truth-tellers shun Santa as a big, fat lie or why Santa zealots view non-believers as evil dream-crushers.
Then there as this thoughtful insight about St. Nicholas from a BabyCenter poster:
“He’s a true historical figure who was orphaned young but with a sizable inheritance,” the parent wrote. “It was part of his life’s work to bring gifts and hope to children in need. So in reality good ole Santa is an embellishment of this story with the intent to keep the giving nature of Christmas alive.”
When the time comes for me to read my kids a book about the real St. Nick, I have a feeling they’ll find something magical in the story about the generous old man who spawned the Santa Clause myth. And we’ll still leave out a plate of cookies for “him” on Christmas Eve.
Do your kids still believe in Santa Claus? If not, what age were they when they learned the truth?
Liz Murtaugh Gillespie is a Seattle freelance writer and mother of two whose heart melts guilt-free when her daughter raves about how Santa’s sleigh can fly in outer space.