This image of Santa Claus on some old Christmas gift wrap I found at an estate sale earlier this year, makes me think about how we talk to kids about Christmas.
I was recently given the unenviable task of explaining the truth about Santa Claus to a young gentleman of about 10. (Some of his relatives have kept the legend of Santa alive for him.) The request that I explain about Santa came from the young man's father, who feared that his son, who was old enough to know the truth, still believed the fable. We had gone to see "Santa" at a local Christmas light display the night before.
"So," I asked the young man, "did you enjoy seeing Santa last night and telling him what you want for Christmas?"
"Yes," the young man replied.
"Yeah, that guy was a pretty good Santa," I observed.
The young man's brow furrowed a bit. "What do you mean?" he asked darkly.
"Well, do you still believe there's a Santa Claus?" (I tried to be matter-of-fact, almost casual about the question.)
The young man looked at me cautiously, his mouth open just a little. "Why did you say 'still believe'?"
I looked back at him over the top of my glasses for a long three seconds.
"You're kidding," he said flatly.
I didn't blink. I could see the wheels turning. Obviously this was not a new concept to him.
"So -- Santa Claus is really just a legend, a tall tale?" he asked, maintaining eye contact and genuinely curious.
"Oh!" The wheels continued to turn as he contemplated this new truth.
"Maybe it will help to think about it this way," I told him. "When you're a little kid, you need to have hope. That means you need to have something to look forward to, like Christmas presents!"
The young man nodded. "Okay..."
"You need to have faith, to believe in someone bigger than yourself, who brings the presents. And you also need to know that your choices have consequences: If you don't behave, your Mom and Dad tell you, Santa won't bring you any toys. It's important that you learn all those things when you're a little kid, and the legend of Santa Claus helps little kids understand."
The young man digested this information. He nodded again.
"But now that you're older," I continued, "you can understand the truth. You have hope -- you can still look forward to Christmas! And you have faith, that someone bigger than you will give you gifts. And now you know that all those great Christmas presents -- as well as those consequences for your choices -- didn't come from Santa Claus. They came from your Dad, who loves you very much."
A thoughtful silence ensued.
"And really," I concluded, "what would you rather have? What's better? A once-a-year visit from some old guy in a funny suit, who lives far away? Or knowing that the gifts really come from your Daddy, who is with you all the time, and loves you, and will keep giving you Christmas presents year after year?"
The silence continued, but the young man's eyes began to twinkle as he watched me.
"I guarantee you," I said, "that a few days from now, you're going to have a whole lot of presents under your Christmas tree. From your Daddy, and from your Mom, and even some from me."
The young man thought for another moment. Then he smiled.
(Whew. You owe me one, Daddy.)