Parenting

My Tweens Still Believe In Santa––And I'm Not Bursting Their Bubble Yet

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A month ago, my husband and I had a conversation. We agreed it was time to tell our oldest children, both of whom are tweens, that Santa isn’t real. We were both fearful their peers would reveal the truth before we would, and we didn’t want our kiddos to be humiliated. It was time, or so we thought.

I began researching what parents are doing these days to let their kids down gently. Some suggested that we induct our kids into the secret Santa society where they keep the magic going by helping their younger siblings keep believing. You know, the whole, don’t spoil the surprise kind of thing. This sounded reasonable. However, as the weeks passed and the COVID-19 statistics looked more and more grim, we decided that this is definitely not the year to tell the kids that Santa is a sham. My anxiety is through the roof just thinking about telling them — so it’s now a no-go.

We are one of those annoying Christmas-obsessed families. Christmas prep starts the day after Thanksgiving. We put up our tree, wrap gifts, blast holiday tunes, and bake three kinds of cookies. Normally we have family gathering events planned over the course of two weeks, but not this year. No annual girlfriend cookie exchange party, funky-gift exchange with my cousin, or visiting Santa. The coronavirus has turned me into an angry elf.

I’m fully supportive of canceling plans in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. There’s no doubt in my mind that keeping our Christmas intimate, small, and at-home is the best choice this year. However, I’m still jaded over it. For the first time in almost forty years, I won’t be spending Christmas with my parents and siblings, and now, our nephews.

Doing what’s right isn’t always easy, and that proves to be quite true this holiday season. Instead, we’re shipping gifts to loved ones and planning video-chat opening sessions. We’re baking cookies and freezing them rather than sharing them with our loved ones. I think what’s been the most challenging is realizing there’s no in-person Santa visits. What is Christmas without seeing Santa? (I know, there’s virtual options, but they are simply not the same.)

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With all our kids have had to deal with and give up this year, including remote learning, I’m not going to take away this significant glimmer of hope. If Santa isn’t real, what does that even mean? We’re sad enough as it is, and I’m not going to add to our collective pain. 2020 can eat glass, and Mom and Dad are going to absolutely keep Santa-isn’t-real under wraps.

I remember finding out, on my own, that Santa wasn’t real as a kid. My younger sister and I were playing in our parents’ room and decided to crawl under their bed. There, we found “Santa’s” wrapping paper—that special paper only Santa uses. Why did my parents have that paper under their bed? Oh. That’s why.

My mom proceeded to warn my sister and I that if we didn’t believe, we didn’t receive. Basically, we needed to keep believing in the magic of Santa, even though we knew he didn’t shimmy himself down our chimney to deliver gifts, because we had a younger sibling who still fully believed. We were absolutely not going to ruin the surprise for him.

I remember feeling a deep sense of sadness, maybe even loss, when finding out that Santa wasn’t real. Maybe it was my ongoing control-freak nature and anxiety, or maybe it was that some of my childhood memories of finding that perfect gift under the tree on Christmas morning wasn’t fully what I believed it to be. Do I think I was devastated and permanently scarred? No. But did I have a moment? Absolutely yes.

We believe in being open and honest with our children. Santa has been the single subject that we’ve danced around. We bought a book about St. Nicholas and read it to the kids. We’ve explained that all of the representations we see of Santa aren’t the true Santa. These are Santa’s helpers, his representatives. The real Santa is magical and can’t be caught in action (despite what they’ve seen in Christmas Chronicles).

When the time is right, meaning, the world isn’t crumbling, we will tell our children the full truth. I cringe even thinking about having this conversation with them. I know that it may not wind up being the huge deal I imagine. After all, they know the truth about all sorts of important topics, topics we openly and frequently discuss. But this one, that Jolly Old St. Nick isn’t really going to land his sleigh on the rooftop while they’re asleep, is breaking my mama heart a bit.

Plus, if they know that Santa isn’t real, that leads to a conversation about the beloved Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. I imagine their horror or disappointment when I tell them a giant rabbit doesn’t leave a basket of chocolate, books, and LEGO sets in our living room. Or that a super swift Tooth Fairy doesn’t drop a dollar in their tooth pillows when they sleep. I’m absolutely full of dread, and yes, I realize I’m making this more about me than my kids.

Perhaps it’s denial that they’re growing up. How is it possible that my babies are old enough to understand that parents have to keep the Santa tradition chugging along?

I know one thing for certain. 2020 is not the year to tell my kids the truth about Santa. I’m not doing it. There’s been enough taken from them—and us—this year. I will absolutely relish in their innocence and belief this Christmas morning.

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