December 3, 2012

Santa Unwound

We love Christmas. We love all it invokes from the faithful as well as the secular world. What child doesn't know about Santa?  And yet... what child doesn't remember that crushing moment of learning the truth about Santa?

Today, I was inspired by a former colleague and writing friend of mine to look at my Santa story with a little more scrutiny. I grew up with the stories, the displaced logs out of the fireplace because apparently Santa was able to manage flaming logs without setting the home on fire, but not put them back on the hearth. He left footprints around our yard, nibbled cookies and gave his reindeer our carrots.

We had pages of evidence why Santa existed as well as the reassurance of Mom. Santa was real. There was no doubt in my mind. I blithely accepted that truth so convincingly that in 6th grade Sunday School class, when I was 12 years old, my teacher reminded us very matter of factly that now that we were old enough to know that Santa wasn't real we needed to talk more in depth about what Christmas really meant.

I looked around my classroom at the nodding heads and had that horrific moment of uncool revelation. I was literally the only kid left in the class who didn't know the truth. I faked it the rest of the class until I ran to the bathroom holding back the tears of my embarrassment. Splashing water on my face, I gathered my composure the best I could to meet my parents for Mass. I never told them that I knew they hadn't been honest about Santa. But I felt deceived and angry. In fact, 35 years later, I still feel indignation that I could have been spared that moment if only my questions had been answered. Instead, they were deflected and unanswered. I don't blame my folks. I was gullible and I'm sure when I still believed at age 12, they were confused how to proceed. I am sure they just never expected me to still believe them at that age. I was well past the age of reason and marching towards Junior High.

My horror was so magnified that I swore I would come clean with my own children the very minute they wondered. In fact, I almost pounced on the opportunity to tell the truth when they expressed the slightest doubt. I wanted to spare them that moment of horrific realization that they were the only ones in the room who didn't know the truth about Santa.

Today those memories came rushing back when my young mother friend posted her thoughts about perpetuating the myth. She explained, "It's fun to be imaginative with your kids and play pretend with their favorite characters. The difference is, I don't put cheese on the counter with a bite out of it and a letter from Mickey Mouse inviting the family to go to Disney World... "

Her thoughts resonated with me as I reflected on my own explanations With child #1, I merely confirmed her suspicions that Santa was me when she asked. I was matter of fact and succinct. With child #2, I explained that Santa was a good man who loved children and he was so inspiring that parents everywhere carried on his traditions on Christmas. Naturally child #1 thinks child #2 got a way better revelation.

It has nagged me. Santa is not why we celebrate Christmas. Why are we making the day about anything other than what it really is? The other day I decried the "War on Christmas" as trivialized and of our own making. But maybe... that is a piece of the puzzle.

For my dear readers?

How do you handle the Santa story?

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