In my daily blog surfing and hopping and general use-blog-reading-to-avoid-real-work, I’m finding lots of discussions about how to handle the whole Santa Claus thing, and when kids should be told the truth. Or should they be told at all, maybe they should figure it out. Or should they ever be allowed to believe in the first place. Maybe credit should be given to whomever is actually buying those gifts right from the start.
Apparently, Paris Hilton believed in the Jolly Old Elf until she was 17.
I think I was 7 or so when I figured it out, and I don’t think believing that some old guy was sneaking into my house, leaving gifts, ever tormented me. Stumbling onto the truth was not some psyche-scarring experience, either. It never ruined Christmas for me, although it might have put a dent in my sisters’ experience since I was the youngest and the last to lose that belief—as soon as I did they knew they weren’t getting any extra Santa gifts, either.
My son was allowed to believe. I don’t remember when he made it clear that he knew the truth, but his excitement over the whole thing didn’t wane because of it. When he was very little he wrote letters to Santa, left out milk and cookies (one year he left a beer; Santa left a note explaining that because he had to drive the sled, he couldn’t drink, so he put the beer back in the fridge and took a Dr. Pepper instead…) and he simply Believed.
I suspect he knew sometime around age 8, and by age 10 he was saving money and buying toys to donate to Christmas toy drives. You have to figure if a kid realizes that other kids aren’t getting anything because of poverty or other family situations, he knows Santa isn’t exactly hitting up every house in the world for a reason.
He was around the typical age for figuring the whole thing out. I don’t remember if he ever announced it or asked. But he knew.
So—with permission from his parents—let me tell you about Alex.
Alex is the oldest child of a friend who hasn’t updated his blog in 30 million years. He’s one of those kids who is scary-smart, and it was obvious from the time he was 6 months old or so. He was speaking words around 8 or 9 months, was potty trained before he was 11 months, and could carry on a toddler-type conversation at a year. He could count, knew his colors, and was reading some by age 2. He demonstrated unique displays of logic at 2.
Like I said: scary-smart.
When Alex was 3, He Who Never Blogs took him to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. Their goal: find the perfect present for Mommy. On the way in they encountered a Salvation Army bell ringer and Murf gave Alex a few dollars to put in the bucket. When Alex asked what they did with the money, Murf explained that they buy things for people who don’t have a lot of money of their own, like food and clothes.
Alex was content with the explanation.
They shopped for a bit, and at some point they saw the Marine’s Toys For Tots booth; Alex wanted to know what soldiers were doing there with a bunch of toys.
Collecting them to give to kids for Christmas. No, not all kids, just the ones whose Moms and Dads can’t afford to buy toys themselves.
Alex was quiet for a moment; then he sank to his knees and began crying wildly. It took a stunned Murf several minutes to calm him down enough to understand what the problem was. He sat on the mall floor, people walking around them, with Alex in his lap, trying to wipe his nose and listen at the same time.
Mostly Alex wanted to know: are there really kids out there who don’t have any toys? The thought tore at him; Murf knew he wanted to be told that of course all kids have toys to play with, but Alex was never the typical toddler and would know it if he wasn’t told the truth. So Murf told him, as gently as he could.
Yes, sadly, some kids don’t have toys. Sometimes their Moms and Dads don’t make enough money to buy any, not even at Christmas.
And Alex knew. Sitting on the floor of the mall, wrapped in the safety of his father’s arms, he knew about Santa. He stared at the Marines and said “Santa is a pretend game?”
Yes, Murf admitted.
The soldiers get to pretend to be Santa for kids who don’t have money?
Is it fun for them?
The most fun they’ll have all year.
They have money?
They need people to buy toys and give the toys to them. That way everyone who wants to can feel like Santa.
Can we buys toys and give to them?
Right now, if you want. We can buy lots of toys.
Alex got up, grabbed Murf’s hand, and headed for the toy store. He loaded a cart with his favorite things, and happily gave them to the Marines manning the Toys For Tots booth.
Then Murf asked if he wanted lunch.
You gots money?
Enough to buy some lunch. And a present for Mommy.
We have food at home?
Yes. Do you want to just go home?
You give your money to the man outside with the bell.
You need to eat something, Alex.
No I don’t. How much money you got?
Enough to buy you lunch, get Mommy a present, and still give money to the man with the bell.
Give him ALL your money, Daddy!
But we need to buy Mommy a present. If I give him all my money, I can’t buy something for Mommy.
Yes you can.
Use a check.
Murf left the mall with an empty wallet and a hungry kid. As he buckled Alex into his car seat, Alex asked, “Are you my Santa?”
Yes, I am.
I won’t tell Rachel. Does Mommy know?
Mommy knows. Are you okay about this?
Will Christmas still be fun for you?
I still get presents?
Yep. Lots of presents.
Buying toys was fun.
Buying toys is always fun.
I can help buy toys for Rachel?
And so it went… At three years old, this little guy figured it out. Instead of being destroyed by it, he turned it into something fun for himself. He’s 10 now and every year he goes shopping with his dad, buys as many toys to donate as he possibly can, and makes sure that Murf leaves the mall without any cash on him.
I think 17 is a little old to not know the truth…but in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think Santa is a harmful lie. Most of us grew up with the idea of Santa and we remember the excitement, not the disappointment of figuring it out.
I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with choosing to not tell your kids about Santa. The holidays are fun with or without him.
I think there’s everything right when you can take whatever you teach your child and turn it into acts of compassion and generosity. Alex grasped at 3 what most of us don’t really get until we have kids of our own: playing Santa is fun. Giving to others just feels good. And if you can combine that fun with doing something that feels good and right, all the better.
Whether he exists or not—yeah, there is a Santa Claus. A whole lot of Santas. Marines. Salvation Army soldiers. Little kids who just want to give. And they’re having the best time…