My family is standing on the precipice of a strange new world, a world in which Santa is a fictional character and 100 percent of all gifts nestled neatly under the tree are dutifully purchased from local stores or delivered to our door in clandestine brown boxes from e-retailers offering eye-popping sales and Cyber Monday free shipping deals. Either way, no elves will be involved.
Our oldest daughter, the girl who has adored Santa Claus and believed in Christmastime magic more than any child I’ve ever known, is expressing the serious doubts that are standard for her age. Frankly, it is curious to me that a sixth-grader still believes in the big Ho Ho as strongly as she has up until the past few weeks. But the jig finally appears to be up.
I’d envisioned (read: feared) this moment for the past couple of years, mentally preparing myself that this may be the last Santa Christmas, but lo and behold there would always be another one roughly 365 days later. We’d mail more lists to the North Pole, place more cookies under the tree, and leave more carrots on the front walkway for a pack of hard-working and perpetually underappreciated reindeer.
All that was prep for this, for this will be the last Santa Claus Christmas for our firstborn child. The only thing genuinely surprising now is how I am taking it, for I love Christmas, Santa, reindeer and the myth of winter magic nearly as much as she. After years of clinging to and playing up the Santa legend in a variety of clever ways, I am ready for it to be over. I stand in awe of the quality run we had together, but it is time to move forward into a post-Santa world. I am at peace about Christmases without Santa.
(Note: My youngest still believes but when a domino falls, the one standing beside it tends to come down shortly thereafter.)
Because Santa played a huge role in my own idyllic childhood and because I have no obvious scars from the revelation that a chubby, red-faced man from the Great North was not responsible for the bounty of gifts under my parents’ Christmas tree each year, there was never any doubt that we would be two more parents in a long and proud lineage to adopt the Santa Claus tradition for our own kids.
But we didn’t just adopt it, we owned it. Sure, we’d take a few nibbles of each cookie on Santa’s special plate in the wee hours of Christmas Eve night—I mean, who doesn’t do at least that?—but then I’d demonstrate my supreme commitment to perpetuating the Santa myth by quietly sneaking out the front door to chomp on a dozen raw unpeeled carrots, doing my best to approximate a reindeer bite while suppressing my gag reflex. I only like my carrots sauteed with a balsamic glaze, you see, the polar opposite of carrots lying on a cold dirty walkway that also happens to be caked in glitter, you know, to help the apparently nearsighted deer find their free al fresco dinner buffet.
My other big trick used to sell the Santa myth was, I must say, pure genius. In fact, it seems to be the only thread holding Santa Claus’s bright red suit together ’round here: There would always be Play-Doh under the tree from Santa. This may seem a normal Christmastime occurrence, but I despise Play-Doh—the way it feels, smells and manages to always find its way into the nooks and crannies of our carpet. And yet, damn near every December 25, there would be a fresh new box of all the colors and more plastic accouterments to make hair, cupcakes or whatever. The plan worked: Santa must be real because “Daddy would never buy us Play-Doh!” My daughter just said so last week. My tricks have worked well. But no more tricks for that girl.
Sure, it is a lie, the only one I’ve ever told my daughters (okay fine, there’s the Tooth Fairy one, too—oh, the magical lies parents tell their kids), but it’s a great lie that has given the two kids I love most in the world some childhood memories far beyond any my wife and I could have provided without the assistance of the North Pole’s top man in charge.
When she finally admits that she no longer believes in Santa, I’ll wrap up a single yellow plastic tub of Play-Doh and put a shiny ornate bow on top. After she opens it, I imagine that we’ll share a wink, a smile, a tear and a hug big enough to envelop the previous 11½ years of love, joy and Christmas magic.
And if you think I’m not crying as I typed that last sentence, then you’re crazy.