Joyfully perpetuating

If someone asks me if I believe in Santa Claus, the answer will always be yes.

I will believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny, and anything else that prolongs the temporary (and all too brief) magic that makes childhood, childhood. Hard reality arrives soon enough.

This is probably why I completely agree with people going to great lengths to keep up what many think is a ruse and a disservice to children. My feelings? No harm, no foul.

When my own kids were young (and even when they got too old), I always made sure to put out cookies and hot chocolate for the man in the red suit, and probably always will as long as one of them will be waking up under my roof Christmas morning. Those children are bigger than me now, but I suspect the rituals they grew up with will translate into similar practices once they have their own kids in their own houses. For now, while one is a moody teenager and the other only sleeps over Christmas Eve, I’ll still move that Santa plate and mug from the cabinet to the table before bed, because it’s a ritual that gives me significant comfort.

The age when “they know” seems to be getting younger and younger. This year has turned out to be a particularly precarious one for the North Pole folk and for the parents who are trying to maintain their rituals. Many friends of mine have children who have reached that age where school friends have blurted “the truth” and now rumours and gossip threaten the well-polished reputation of Mr. Claus and his flying sled.

“You know about Santa, don’t you?” one 10-year-old said, when her mother asked about her letter to Santa.

“No, what?”

She narrowed her eyes, expecting her mom to fess up, but because her mom had already walked that path with her older children, she stayed stone-faced and waited for her daughter to continue.

“Come on, you know. You don’t have to pretend anymore.”

But pretend she did. I don’t blame her. I would have done the same.

Other friends’ kids tell me stories about their enjoyment of the Elf on the Shelf. One little boy told me all about the shenanigans with his elf, Happy. “He’s always getting in trouble!” he half-complained. Then his little sister told her own story of Happy’s not-so-happy deeds, all of which occur in the darkness of night while they’re fast asleep. The first thing those kids do every morning, like so many others, is go look for their elf, and many of them spend the rest of the day talking and laughing about it with their friends.

(That elf business was my husband’s wheelhouse, not mine, during Hiccup’s run at the MacDonald residence. It turns out I’m not very creative. My moving the elf from the fireplace mantle to the bookshelf was insufficient compared to my husband’s elaborate scenes of checkers and snacks with other action figures.)

The delight of kids while discussing their elves and Santa Claus always brings a smile to my face. It also reminds me of a conversation many years ago with an acquaintance who had her nose out of joint because I was perpetuating the lie of Santa Claus with the children in my son’s group of friends. She said I was being irresponsible and juvenile, lying to those eight-year-olds.

Some adults would probably agree. A substitute teacher in New York recently made the news when he told first-graders that Santa wasn’t real. The parents were furious at his nerve, and the principal assured the community “we take this very seriously.” Sadly, what’s done is done.

When my friend’s 10-year-old approached her with that conversation last week, it was her decision as to how to respond. Different people approach this topic in different ways, after all.

My kids never came to me with it. Do they, at 14 and 21, think a bearded man flies around the earth on a magic sleigh propelled by magic reindeer, delivering presents to billions of children in one night? No, they’ve worked out that math a long time ago, I’m assuming. But they have parents who refuse to verbalize that there is no Santa Claus. As long as there are presents under my tree there will be some marked from Santa. And there will always, always be milk and cookies on my table when I go to bed Christmas Eve.