|photo courtesy of Travis Lovell photography|
Long ago the idea was planted in my head that telling your kids that Santa was real was lying to your kids and wrong. It was a boy I was dating and really liked and this blew me away. If we got married I couldn't do Santa?! That was ridiculous. In the extreme. It wasn't lying. It was... allowing imagination! I believed in Santa and I turned out fine. Sure, there was that one year that I lied through my teeth when my brother, Damian, tried to tell me he wasn't real and I told him that he was wrong because I'd found Santa's gloves in the fireplace the year before. But I've since repented and come clean with my mom about it. (Like, a day or two ago.)
And then I had children. And they got old enough to care. And suddenly my viewpoint changed a little. So BJ and I have had many talks about this, trying to decide how we wanted to handle it. This is what we've come up with. Who knows what might change in future.
Kessa is very curious. She asks lots of questions. I always try to answer truthfully. Sometimes I have to kid-ify it so she can understand. Including questions about menstruation and pregnancy. Sometimes I have to tell her I don't know, let's google it. Sometimes I go insane at the amount of questions she asks and have to tell her, "Mommy is going crazy right now. Can you please not ask any questions for at least 10 minutes? Please?" (And then Daddy will get off work and ask, "What's our timeline for dinner?" and Kessa will panic, "Daddy! Don't ask Mommy any questions!!!!") We've started keeping her reverent during the Sacrament by letting her look through the Gospel Art book. She loves to hear the scripture stories, so she'll pick one and we'll whisper the story in her ear. It may not be perfectly silent reverent, but it does help keep her (and whoever is playing storyteller) focused on Jesus during the sacrament. I'll call that a win. Now she'll ask out of the blue, "Tell me another story about Peter! One that's not him walking on water." Or "Mommy, is that story true?"
It's that last question that really sealed the deal. "Mommy, did this story about Jesus really happen?" "Daddy, did Jesus really live?" Yes, sweetie. These stories are real. They really happened.
Now what happens when Kessa asks me, "Mommy, is Santa real?" What am I supposed to say? Should I lie and tell her he is? What happens when she finds out that I lied? Will she start doubting everything else I told her? Will she call me out on it? (Honestly, I think she would. She's pretty bold like that.) Just like the day my heart was broken because she called me out on breaking a promise to her, how would I feel when she looks at me, tears in her eyes, "Mommy, you lied to me"?
I can't do that. I can't. With all the things in the world trying to pull my kids (and everyone else) away from Christ, how can I contribute? No. I need my kids to know that they can trust me. That when they ask me a question, I'll tell them the truth.
Now, what about the magic of Christmas?! What about their imagination!? Are we just being Christmas Scrooges? No fun here, sir. Absolutely not.
The other experience that helped cement in my mind that we are doing the right thing for our family took place over Halloween. We pulled out my magic wand and Kessa loved to magically turn the lights on and off. I loved that she had the spells memorized. Nox! Lumos! Adorable. Of course, for it to work one of us had to stand by the light switch and turn the lights on and off. When we got tired or had something else to do, we'd tell her that the wand was tired or that the magic had worn out and needed to recharge. One day she grabbed the wand, turned to BJ and said, "Daddy, I want to use the magic to turn on the light. I need you to stand there and turn on the light and trick me." She knew! She absolutely knew that it was all pretend. And yet, she was still incredibly excited every time we did it. Even after that realization on our part, you still never would have known that she knew. Because she'd act all surprised when it worked. She was so happy and excited about it.
Turns out, kids can be just as excited about something they know to be pretend as something they believe to be real. This came as a surprise to me. I really feared that we'd be taking the magic out of Christmas for Kessa (and later Abby and Baby 3.0 and whoever might come after). But no. Kessa proved to me that pretend can be just as exciting.
Last year we told Kessa that Santa was pretend once at the beginning of the season. I'm still not sure if she remembers that conversation. Or if she fully grasped it. She was just so little at 3. Sometime between the seasons she asked me if Jesus was real. We had a good conversation about how Jesus was real. We learn about him every week at church because he was real and he's so important. There are lots of other people that aren't real that we pretend about. Those are usually the things at holidays that we talk about for a short time, then we're done. Like Santa or the Easter bunny. Those are fun, but they're just pretend. Jesus, though. He's real. ... but I don't know if she remembers that conversation either.
This year, though, she is super excited about everything Christmas. Santa. Reindeer. Everything. I'm pretty sure she remembers everything that is said. So far we haven't had a real talk about it. But I think she knows he's pretend. I think. But we've left clues. Like I've told her a number of times that I want to get both of the girls dresses for Christmas. The dresses will come from Santa. She found her stocking stuffer (a bunch of socks) and will see that come from Santa, too. So I'll be interested to see her reaction on Christmas morning. Is she confused? Does she act just as excited?
There's a great VeggieTales movie that talks about St. Nicholas and his story. I love it. I think I might use that to help teach her why we pretend that he brings us presents.
One of her favorite things to do is go up to someone (usually mom or dad) and say, "Tell me a secret that no one knows." I'm tempted to wait until there's a good time to talk and tell her the Santa secret. I'll say something like, "Ok, I'm going to tell you a secret that is very important we keep a secret, because many kids don't know it. If we tell them the secret they might be sad. But I know you're a good secret keeper (she is, for what it's worth). You ready? Well, there isn't any "real" Santa. There are just lots of helpers. Do you know another name for Santa? St. Nicholas. Do you remember the movie about St. Nicholas? He put money in girls' socks, or stockings, to pay off their debts and keep them safe. He gave service, even though it risked his life. That was very kind of him, huh? We do service too, don't we? [talk about some recent service she's done.] He was such a good man that we like to keep his memory alive by pretending he comes every Christmas to give us gifts. Some of them even in our stockings! Just like St. Nicholas really did when he lived! Now, some kids believe there is one real Santa. And we don't want to make them sad. So if anyone ever asks you about it, you should just tell them to talk to their parents about it. Remember never to tell our secret. But we can still have fun and pretend that he's coming, can't we? You've got a great imagination."
But I still can't decide if I should do that now, or wait until between seasons. If she asks, I'll absolutely tell her. No questions. I just can't decide if I should bring it up now or not. I guess I'll bring it up when the time feels right. Seems like a good policy with important discussions in general.
Of course, this is just what we've decided for our family. This is what we're doing for our children because we think it's what will work best for us. Other families will do it differently, and that's fine. It would be awfully silly to judge someone based on when they pass along a shared cultural secret, don't you think?
(Suggestion: do it before they're 15. Really. It gets awkward. Yes, this really happened.)