Santa Isn’t the Magic of Christmas

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I am, admittedly, one of those moms who (re)lives childhood joys through her children. I am the first to initiate ice cream for dinner, always down for a spontaneous dance party, plan costumes year-round, and there is nothing I relish more than the magic of the Christmas. So, last year, when my 10-year-old asked if Santa is real, my festiveness ran head first into my promise to always be honest with my kids.

As a single parent in a complicated situation with my ex-spouse, and as a human being in a world that profits from lying to people, I have created a couple of very simple metrics for my success as a parent. The first is that my children never doubt my love for them, under any circumstance. I frame my discipline with my love for them. I remind them on notes, before bed, and I do so relentlessly, whether I am angry, frustrated, tired, or overjoyed. The other metric is that my children never doubt my honesty, no matter the subject. So, we have some tough conversations, and my kids are probably more aware of the landscape of grown-up life than many families would be comfortable with. But, for me, those metrics work. Those metrics function to guide my parenting decisions and give me solace during family turmoil and in anticipating my inevitable parenting failures.

But those metrics were insufficient to answer the Great Santa Question. I was dumbfounded. Do I tell her the truth? Would that rob her of the magic of the holidays? Would she resent me forever for stealing Christmas from her? Worse yet, my 8-year-old was sitting right across the table, wide-eyed in anticipation of my response. So, I defaulted to my usual stalling mechanism: I answered a question with a question. “Do you really want to know?” I asked. “Are you certain that you want to have this conversation when it could potentially change the way you feel about Christmas?” She, having learned from and surpassed me in stalling tactics, responded to my questioning of her question with yet another question, “If you tell me the truth, can we still pretend?” So, that’s how the conversation that killed Santa in our family started. But, that conversation did not kill the magic of Christmas.

That year, and since the fake Santa revelation, the way we talk about Christmas has changed a bit, but for the better. Instead of the magic of Santa, we now focus more on the miracle of Jesus Christ and why we really celebrate Christmas. The changing narrative has prompted my girls to be more Christ-like in their approach to celebrating, with a greater motivation to give instead of receive, with more grace in their reaction to Santa not being able to grant all of their wishes, and with more intention to understand how truly magical Christmas, family, and God are, when extricated from the materialism and consumerism of the world.

Do my kids still get gifts? Yes. But knowing that Santa’s spirit lives in their Mom, who works hard to build the magic for them, has made it much more special. My daughter said to me last year, “Mommy, I cannot believe you’ve been doing this for us all these years. I know you must have worked so hard.” I cried. I cried because it is nice to be appreciated, sure. But I also cried because of the joy I felt realizing that my daughter was growing into a person who pays attention to the sacrifices others make.

Do we still get visited by the Elf on the Shelf? Heck yeah. But now we work together. I stage the first visit, and then my girls plan out their own unique scenarios, and we take turns. It has prompted so many fun, creative conversations. Do my kids still write Christmas lists? Yes, but they are shorter and buffered by the new joy they’ve found in focusing on how to make Christmas magical for kids whose lives are not privileged enough to be anchored in years of expectations of Santa. Our Christmas last year, and heading into this year, are much more collaborative, God-centered, and magical than they were with Santa.

I am thankful for our years with Santa. I would never wish away the late nights making footprints with flour, constructing return letters, nibbling cookies, sweeping away reindeer food, or constructing any other Santa-related surprises. Santa was so much fun for so many years. If you are anything like me, the Santa myth is just as much fun for you as it is/was for your kids. The thought of losing Santa can be scary for parents because he is a key figure in the cultural construction of Christmas.

I am not here to tell anyone what is right for their family in terms of celebrating Christmas. I know that each family and each child is unique. I just want to share my experience for those who are worried that the Santa question will sap some of the magic from their holiday. Ending Santa doesn’t mean ending Christmas. In many ways, for my family, it has meant rediscovering the magic and meaning of Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all of my single moms (fellow Santas)!

A. Smith