My daughter Lilly will be eight years old in February. She still unequivocally believes in Santa Claus, despite being aware that others -most grown ups and some older children- don’t believe in him (thanks to perennial favorite The Polar Express).
It seemed so harmless and fun when she was a toddler. You want your child to believe in magic, to be awed and entertained, to be tickled by its possibilities. Besides, you almost have no choice but to perpetuate the cultural phenomena of Santa, unless you want your kid to be that kid that goes around telling all the other children that Santa is a big fat lie.
But then, as your child gets older, the questions begin: how does Santa know when you’re naughty or nice? (Um, monitors, like on Polar Express?)How does he get in our house when we have no chimney?(We’ll leave the door unlocked). Is that really Santa at Yankee Candle? (Yes, but he does have a lot of helpers that goes to other places. He can’t be everywhere at once, right?) Does he know everything? (Not everything, but he knows a lot). Can he do magic? (A little bit. His reindeer can fly, after all). Do you believe in Santa, mom? (Um, sure I do).
Lie after lie after lie. Suddenly you realize you’ve created a monster, and it’s pulling you down into a vortex of falsehood and illusion. This can’t possibly be good, right? And you dread the day when it all comes crashing down, when your sweet child looks at you with wounded, betrayed eyes with the question Why? on her trembling lips. And that day will come.
Lilly is already upset that magic isn’t real; real magic, when you say abracadabra and wave the wand, and a unicorn appears. But it doesn’t work; nothing appears in a puff of smoke. I try to explain to her that magicians use illusion: they trick you into thinking you’re seeing something that’s not there. But she’s not buying it. She wants it to be real. She wants the impossibility of something out of nothing.
So when the day comes that I have to explain that Santa Claus isn’t a real person, he’s simply the generous and giving spirit of Christmas, well…I think that’s going to go over like a lead balloon. Like the kid in The Polar Express, she’s going to feel railroaded, bamboozled, taken for a ride. And I don’t blame her.
Am I worrying too much about this? None of us has ever died in finding out that Santa isn’t a real flesh and blood person. But maybe a little something inside ourselves die. A basic trust in our parents, for one thing. I don’t exactly remember the day when it became clear to me that Santa (Easter Bunny, tooth fairy, fill in the blank) wasn’t real; it might have been an accumulation of evidence over time. I just remember feeling resigned that magic had no place in the real world. (Maybe that’s why I write in the genre I do-it’s the only way to bring magic back into my world).
“Magic” in a metaphorical sense is all well and good when you’re old enough to appreciate it. But when you’re a kid, it just sucks when the real magic dies. Lucky for me, Lilly isn’t there yet.