This article was originally printed in November 2014.
I’m someone who always reads the last page of a book first, and the spoilers before I watch the next episode of The Walking Dead. For me, the ending is interesting, but how we get to that ending is the real payoff. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that when I was 10 or 11, I begged my older brother to tell me the truth about Santa. When he did, I wasn’t crushed; I didn’t feel fooled or lied to. I felt that a new world had opened, one of getting to play Santa while my younger sister still believed, staying up late on Christmas Eve to wrap presents with my mom and older siblings, being trusted with secrets. I had become, if just for a few hours one night a year, one of the grownups.
My daughter, Amelia, is 10½ and she still believes. A recreation of the royal gown she saw on TV? Santa can make that. A life-sized stuffed rhino that sells for $900. Santa can make that. She’s pretty good at understanding the value of money in everyday situations, that we can’t always afford to buy everything we want at the very moment we want it. But where Santa is concerned, all bets are off. He’s Santa, after all. He can make reindeer fly! He can do anything!
A week before Thanksgiving, she’s already written a letter to Santa for her Elf on the Shelf to deliver. Nicknamed Derek, the elf lives year round with her Barbie dolls but in the weeks before Christmas, he’s supposed to travel nightly to see Santa. (I know this goes against the Elf on the Shelf tradition, but that’s what she decided and who am I to fight it?) It’s not enough for Derek to deliver the notes that Amelia writes, he has to bring one back from Santa too. Imagine how hard it is for me to disguise my handwriting so my pre-teen doesn’t suspect it’s me writing the notes, or forging the hoof-print signature of Rudolph. And beware the wrath when I forget to “deliver” Derek’s letter. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, groggily scribble a note from Santa, and then tiptoe into Amelia’s room to leave it with the elf. It makes for a very nerve-wracking holiday season.
I don’t want to ruin the magic and mystery for her, so I try to tweak it a little. I tell her, “Santa brings what he thinks you need. He’s got to spread his toy-making time and elf labor force’s efforts among all the children in the world.” Or “maybe Derek was too tired to travel to the North Pole last night; he didn’t want to leave his girlfriend Barbie.” But there are already plot holes in the story. Last year, I tried to convince her that Santa leaves gift receipts when she got a pile of clothes (from Grandma Santa) that were too small. And she almost lost faith in him when he brought her the wrong action figure from The Hunger Games (She’s team Peeta, not Gale, jeez, EVERYONE knows that).
If Santa disappoints her again this year, this may be the end of the whole deal. On one hand, I know it’s an inevitable part of growing up, but on the other hand, it signals the end of a chapter in her life, when Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny were real and holidays were magical times. Will she be okay with the truth, like I was, or will she be upset that the magic isn’t real? My hope is that she will understand the reason behind the story of Santa, the idea of giving to others without expecting anything in return, that the magic that made reindeer fly can exist in real life when we do good things for other people.
That may be a lofty idea for a 10½ year old to grasp, so just in case, I’ll spend the next few weeks scouring the malls for an affordable recreation of a royal gown and the biggest stuffed animal that I can fit in my car.