Nothing beats the magic of Christmas when children are in your life, and for many kids Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa. From carefully thought out letters mailed direct to the North Pole*, to seeing the wonderment in a child’s eyes when meeting the man himself in shopping centres, there can be no denying that Santa plays a very big part in a modern family Christmas. And so had it been in our family for twelve glorious fun-filled years. But little did I know that last Christmas was our LAST Christmas with Santa. This year the secret is well and truly out!
So many firsts!
As parents we eagerly anticipate the firsts: the first tooth, first word, first steps, first day of school… each one excitedly ticked off the milestone checklist amidst much joy and celebration. We record them, splash them proudly all over social media, and commit them eternally to memory. The first Christmas and first visit to Santa herald the dawn of new family traditions, and the Christmas magic begins.
The early years are easy – you are your child’s main influence, their trusted teacher, and your child will believe whatever you tell them. Then they start school and outside influences take hold. Ever since Grade Two my son has been telling me about those (dear little) enlightened kids in the schoolyard loudly proclaiming, “Santa’s not real, you know, it’s just your mum and dad”, and questioning me about ‘the truth please Mum’ with sideways glances. Every year it’s been harder and harder to dodge the questions and keep the magic alive. It was inevitable that one day the Santa bubble would burst and so, with mixed emotions, I find myself facing my very first Santa-free Christmas as a parent.
Last Christmas, as with all our Christmas Pasts, my kids wrote their letters to Santa. Last Christmas, as we have done for years, we created personalised videos sent from Santa at the North Pole** and filmed their nervous anticipation as they watched to see if they’d made the ‘nice list’. Last Christmas I steamed open their letters to Santa because, as usual, I hadn’t a clue what to get them, and I snuck out late night shopping. And, like every other Christmas since the kids could appreciate Santa, I pretended I had a headache and sent hubby and the kids to the movies so I could wrap the presents in secret. Last Christmas the kids left out milk and mince pies for Santa with a thank-you note, and carrots and oats for the reindeer, and last Christmas I diligently chewed up and spat out carrots all over the ‘landing strip’ at the front of the house.
The careful planning, frantic gift buying, letters to Santa, and carrot chewing were all lasts. In spite of my best efforts to prolong the magic the kids have heard things at school, overheard comments from childless adults, read things, and seen things that made them question the validity of Santa.
Now my Master 10 is a very astute boy with an investigative journalist’s knack for extracting information. He can twist my words and trip me up until even I have no idea what I’ve just said or admitted to. We were walking the dog back in September when somehow the conversation turned to Christmas. It went a little like this…
Master 10: I already know Santa isn’t real so you don’t have to pretend any more.
Me: Oh, who told you that?
Master 10: Everyone knows. No one in my year believes in Santa anymore. It’s just mums and dads pretending so you can relax, you’re off the hook.
Me: OK, that’s sad. It was fun while it lasted though, eh?
Master 10: What? So it’s true! Mum you lied – I was testing you!
Oops, he got me.
So many lasts…
But children grow up and, before you’re even ready for it, along come the ‘lasts’. Do you remember the last time you carried your child to bed asleep in your arms? Or the last time you read your child a bedtime story? The last piggyback you gave? All these lasts pass us by without our even noticing, and it’s only when you look back and reminisce that you realise you can’t, for the life of you, remember when they happened. If you’d known then that they would be the ‘last’ of each occasion would you have taken more steps to make them memorable?
Maybe it’s just as well we don’t know because I’m sure I’d have crumpled into a sobbing heap if I’d realised the last time my kids would hold my hand and call me Mummy, before letting go and reducing me to Mum. The lasts are milestones too and at least I can still fondly recall ‘last Christmas’. Luckily I captured much of it on video too, just in case Santa wouldn’t be around for us this year.
The REAL magic of Santa
After breaking the news to Miss 12—who was absolutely ‘devo’—we had a conversation about the real magic of Santa. We discussed how, although Santa does not fly around the world on a sleigh pulled by reindeer, he is most definitely not a lie. Santa Claus is very much real and alive. Santa is ALL mums and dads imagined, for the sake of uniformity and magic, as a jolly old man living an incredible fantasy existence, the mere thought of which can light up any child’s imagination and fill them with hope. He is the magic that grown ups create to make childhood fun and special, to create precious family memories, and to give children something exciting to anticipate. His love teaches children about gift giving and gratitude, and to be humble and good. And just like believing you really did hear jingle bells, or the thump of a sleigh landing, or caught a glimpse of Santa when you should have been asleep, so too can you really believe in the things inside yourself that you can’t see or hear, like your talents and strength of spirit.
Santa is a time-honoured tradition and learning the truth of his existence is a rite of passage for all children growing up. I have passed on to my children the responsibility for keeping the magic alive for other kids, whether younger or older, who still believe. It’s a test of their generosity to hold the secret in their hearts and not ruin it for others, and I’ve every faith in them that they’re up to the task.
So this Christmas will be different. There’ll be no letters posted to Santa, no mince pies left out on a plate, no chewing up carrots. This year the Christmas magic has changed – not gone, just shifted. In many ways it’s a relief; a weight has been lifted. We can go Christmas shopping together as a family this year and the kids can choose what they want without us wasting money on the ‘wrong’ gifts, and the jolly fat man in red will no longer get all the credit for the most ‘awesome present ever’ when we get it right. Master 10 has his sights set on something he is saving up for so he’s asked for money towards that, and Miss 12 would like some experiences and activities instead of presents, so all-in-all it’s worked out quite well.
We can still pretend it’s Santa (after all, Santa IS all mums and dads), and we’ll probably still make a PNP video – only this year I might put the children on the naughty list for something different!
The cat may be out of the bag, but Christmas, and the magic of Santa, will go on!
*If you want Santa’s real address it’s North Pole 9999. The international postage is just 65¢ at your local Post Office!