Keeping Santa Alive in the Suburbs

How do you preserve your kids' innocence—and recapture some of your own—when they begin to suspect the guy in the red suit is a big fat lie?

Throughout this whole nightmare before Christmas, I tried and tried to remember, but I couldn’t recall how I found out the truth about Santa Claus. Or when it happened. I did remember that the discovery didn’t force me to check myself into any kind of clinic. And I also remembered that for years and years afterward, I pretended I didn’t know the truth. I’d wake up on Christmas morning and my mother would walk into the family room and flick on the tree lights, then yell to my dad and me—it was just the three of us—“Santa came!”

I knew unequivocally why I was doing it—to keep the fantasy going, not for me, but for them. On this one morning, on this one day, I wasn’t a moody preteen, and they weren’t trying to figure out what to do about that weird clicking sound in the Ford. It was just us. And Santa.

I also remember being aware that my parents knew I was faking it. For 30-odd years, I figured they played along to try and keep some of that mystery alive for me, and there was probably a little of that going on. But now that I’m the on the other side of the stocking, I’m pretty sure the reason I want to shove it right in the mouths of those two tattletale-ing second graders is because of me. I’m the one who really needs this.

The moment I stopped believing in the fat man, whenever that was, the world started seeping in. Slowly at first—broken hearts and failed tests and chubby thighs. But it just kept coming, filling in the space where all that believing used to be. All of a sudden, I was 42 and worrying about rising gas prices and genetically modified dairy products, and post after post on Facebook detailing fund-raisers for sick people who can’t afford to pay their medical bills. I couldn’t get away from the news, from the shutdowns and suicide bombers, from the missing kids, from too many obituaries of too many friends.

Magic didn’t just happen anymore. I had to make room for it. I had to consciously let it in, give myself permission in the midst of all that junk to believe, just for a season, just for a day, the possibilities my kids simply take for granted—that kisses heal booboos, that shooting stars grant wishes, that a guy can fly all over the world just to bring you presents for no reason other than that you’ve been, you know, nice.

And then, just like that, it happened.

“You are not going to believe what Sammy told me today!” Blair announced at bedtime. Here we go, I thought.

“What did he say?”

“That there is no Santa!


“Yes!” She paused for a second, and looked me right in the eye, firm and desperate. “You know, Mom, I feel sorry for him.”

I nodded. “Me too.”