I’m Navigating Christmas With A First-Time Non-Believer — And It’s Great

At first, I was wrecked.

Originally Published: 
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A Very Scary Holiday: The 2022 Issue

A few weeks ago, my son and I were sitting alone at the kitchen counter — a rare moment, as he has three younger siblings who are usually wrestling for my attention. He is nine, in the fourth grade, and was thumbing through an Amazon gift catalog that has just been delivered. His fingers flipped through the pages quickly, bypassing all of the toys until he came to the gaming section. I watched as his eyes scanned the systems, controllers, and accessories. Right before flipping the page, his head rose and his eyes locked with mine. “Mom, is Santa real?” he asked.

It was the first time I didn’t jump immediately into magical storyteller mode, pleading the case for the magical man and his elves. He’s older now, and the truth feels important to him. So instead I paused, asking, “Do you really want to know?” And he did. So here we are, nine years into my motherhood journey and entering the holiday season with a non-believer — and I have a lot of feelings about it.

At first I was heartbroken. I felt sad for him, as the holiday magic is now seemingly gone. He will no longer wonder if Santa ate the cookies as he runs down the stairs. He won’t spend time crafting the perfect list and decorating it for all of the elves. And I felt sad for myself. The thought of one of my kids being old enough to debunk the ruse sent an electric shock up my spine — it was an in-my-face reminder that time moves far too fast. My naive, innocent little Santa-believing guy is now an inquisitive little dude with awareness, questions, and opinions all his own. So I wallowed a bit, until a week later when something happened.

The door slammed as my oldest rushed through after walking home from school. As he threw his backpack down on the bench he paused, noticing the new decorative holiday toy that arrived in the mail earlier that day, perched on the shelf. He made his way over to it, a chimney scene complete three hanging stockings and a glitter border. I watched as he pressed the button on the bottom right corner, sending it immediately into song. Music played as Santa's head popped out of the top of the chimney, and continued as he lowered, his black boots appearing in the fireplace below. He smiled watching, and then called to his two year old little sister.

For the next twenty minutes he sat with her on his lap, letting her press the button over and over. “Do you love Santa?” he asked, looking over at me and shooting me a quick smirk. “Santa is the best! He is so nice and he comes on Christmas and brings toys!” She clapped as she repeated his name over and over — “Santa! Yay! Santa!”

The tears welled in my eyes as I stood watching them, and in that moment I knew I had been very wrong. The magic was not gone for him. Now he gets to be part of the magic! He can feel important and helpful as he helps me move the elf and curate gift lists. We can wink and nod throughout the season, forming a connection and working together to keep the secret safe. And while believing in Santa is insanely magical, being Santa is the most magical. And now he gets to do this for his siblings, especially his youngest sister whom he adores so much.

So this season will look a little different at my house, but I think that is okay. I will spend time soaking in the innocence of the younger ones, watching their excitement and trying to sear it into my memory for later. I will watch with pride and happiness as my non-believer works to create some magic for his siblings while crossing my fingers that he can be a good secret-keeper. And I will realize (for the millionth time in motherhood) that just because one season of life might be over, doesn’t mean there isn’t something amazing on the other side.

Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.

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