My bouncy-haired daughter ran up to me more excitedly than usual, tightly hugged my legs, and with eyes shrink-wrapped in tears declared, “I told them you weren’t dead!” Wait, what?! I had just arrived at her preschool after trying to teach hormone-saturated junior high students all day. My mind was not prepared for that deeply relieved, but curiously arresting greeting.
She explained, “I told my friends that Santa was dead, and they told me you were dead.”
Who knew 3-year-olds could retaliate with such malice? These tots weren’t messing around when it came to Santa. I bent down, pulled her into my arms, and asked her why she thought Santa was dead. She explained that she figured it out the night before when we told her the story of St. Nicholas. We told her when, where, and how he lived, and SHE deduced that if he lived centuries ago, then he must be dead now. I was impressed. That was some high-level reasoning for my not-quite-4-year-old. I was also wondering if I would be receiving phone calls from the irate parents of the children who would rather see ME dead, than Santa.
Our first of four kids and precocious to boot, we were still working out how exactly to handle the Santa mythos. It seemed she had decided for us. So, I began the conversation I’ve had with her every year since her revelation. “Sweetheart, yes, Santa is a fictional representation of a real man who loved people well. Yes, there are a lot of legends that surround his iconic character, but we let other parents explain that to their children. Did you hear me? It would be better for you to let other parents teach their kids about Santa.”
To which she usually looked incredulously at me and said, “But… He is NOT ALIVE anymore.”
After years of conversations like this, with me staring at her blankly and muttering, “I know, but still... I don’t know what to tell you. Let their parents handle it.” I’ve decided I’m done. While I will continue advising her to be wise about who and how she shares this with, I walk away feeling foolish when I tell her DO NOT. I wonder whether I should silence a child who is passionate about authenticity, and fear what I might be teaching her by doing so.
“I wonder whether I should silence a child who is passionate about authenticity, and fear what I might be teaching her by doing so.”
My Santa debunker is 10 now, and she is finding her way. She recounts the stories of how she let her friend believe in the bearded jolly man until the friend had tried to convince her that Santa was watching. She then laid out a defense the other poor girl didn’t see coming, or stand a chance of overcoming.
How can he be in two places at once?
How can he reach the whole world?
Why does Santa’s writing look so much like your dad’s?
Do you know how he lived when he WAS alive? He gave, loved, and had faith that drove him.
And on and on she goes. I admire her desire for people to know truth but pity the child who goes against her in debate. They are likely to walk away leaving footprints in the ashes of their red-suited Santa dreams.
Kids are resilient and some remain undaunted, including my 4-year-old and 6-year-old. They have declared, “He is too real.” With only the proselytizing of Holiday specials to guide them, they fearlessly take on the little lawyer in my home. Even though we confirm what the oldest has said when they ask, reveal no presents from Santa under the tree, and have stuck with the “St. Nick is an example of how we love” narrative, they’ve stood by it. The oldest then rolls her 10-year-old (going on 40) eyes and blows them off as too young to understand. Then she looks over at me sympathetically and shoots me a someday they will see glance.
I love this kid. I love that she is bold in her convictions and willing to look deeply into the information presented and wrestle with severing truth from lie. Her discerning, loophole-finding mind amazes me, and isn’t this what we want from the next generation? We want thinkers and dreamers. Children who have wonder but are also watchful. Visionaries who are also grounded enough to not believe everything others tell them. So, if your child happens to run into her, and comes home asking if Santa is dead, let it give you hope for the next generation instead of despair. And please, don’t wish for my untimely demise. We’re all in this parenting thing together, figuring it out as we go. Let us learn our own lesson about giving and love from Old (dead) St. Nicholas and give each other a little grace.