When I was ten, I was already old enough to have stopped believing in Santa. Maybe because in the two years since my parent's separation and subsequent divorce, he'd never given me the only thing I really wanted--to have my dad in our lives.
So when I was hospitalized with pneumonia that Christmas, I wasn't expecting him to find me. But sometime in the middle of the night, I awoke to Santa and someone else next to my bed. I closed my eyes as quick as I could because I knew that Santa wouldn't leave you anything if you saw him.
When morning broke, there on the little table next to the bed was a stack of gifts that I knew wasn't from my family; they hadn't been to the hospital yet. (Somewhere I still have the heart-shaped tiger-eye necklace that was with those gifts.) For most of the rest of that day, I was happy to entertain the idea that maybe Santa really was real.
My family came to visit. I think I liked the attention from everyone and I definitely liked getting more (and better) presents than ever before.
Later, alone in my room again, I saw a nurse open the closet across the hall from my room. The closet held all kinds of toys, including a doll just like the one at my bedside that morning. I realized that Santa hadn't brought my gifts; they came from that closet.
I was a little sad to have my illusion evaporate, but it didn't ruin my life or make me question all the adults who went to such lengths to perpetrate the fairy tale upon innocent, trusting minds.
So when it comes to my own children, I'm ambivalent about the white-haired guy. We do a lot to make sure the kids understand what Christmas is really about. We've never told them about Santa, but culturally it's out there, so they can't really miss it.
Along with our Nativity focused stories, I have read them a book about Saint Nicolaus so they understand that even Santa gave gifts because he loved Jesus.
I don't want to be the mom with "those kids" who ruin holidays for their friends, so I haven't made a big deal about Santa being a story, but my replies to their questions and conversations tend to be very neutral.
Santa's never been to our house. Bug is nearly seven, but he's never been a fan. Boo is recently 4; when he saw Santa's House was opening the day after Thanksgiving, he put in his request for a visit. That was a first.
So this year, for the first time, "Santa" will be making an appearance at our house. The gifts the boys asked him for will be beneath the tree on Christmas morning. I won't say they're from Santa, but I'll let them believe for now if they want to. Their "Santa gift" will be topped with a Christmas ornament that shows Santa kneeling before Christ. One comes with this poem. (Scroll down to read poem.)
It's hard sometimes, finding a balance between telling our children the truth and letting them enjoy the fleeting days of childhood magic.
But I don't believe my faith was harmed any by those young days of tooth fairies and Easter bunnies (my grandfather faithfully nibbled on the carrots we left out) and Santa.
And this year, I'm going to let their imaginations ponder the possibilities while I present the Nativity and the wonder that it brings.
What do you do with Santa? I'd love to hear.