Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Telling My Daughter About Santa Claus

I had an unexpected discussion with my just-turned 8-year-old a couple of weeks ago.  At a much younger age than I expected, she guessed the truth about Santa.

As a child, I found out at about the same age, but the sole reason was that I read it in one of those very silly children's books that gives away the secret.  I am not super analytical by nature, and I don't think that I would have reasoned it out, at least not that young.  My little G., on the other hand, is very logical and is a deep thinker, and she basically just figured it out on her own.

While she actually did not ask me for the truth directly, she presented a number of reasoned out points which she said were making her not believe.  While I am comfortable continuing this long Christian tradition with my children, I was not comfortable making up a lot of fictional answers to her reasonable points, and so I told her.

Interestingly, her first reaction was a sort of relief - relief, I believe, that what she was thinking did indeed make sense.  Her second reaction was some sadness.  I remember when I found out as a child being so disappointed that there was no source of gifts that was not limited by budget or other parental concerns.

However, for her part, G started to cry a little and said, "You mean some kids don't get presents?"

I wanted to cry myself at this; I was so touched that her first reaction was to think of others.  I told her that is why we are here - to help each other - and that is why we have donated toys at Christmas time and filled shoeboxes for poor kids and so on.  I had to really assure her that everyone wanted all children to have toys at Christmas, and that there were many groups that would help parents who couldn't afford presents.

At some point in there she also did say, "But it was a lie." And this is why some friends I know don't "do" Santa, because they believe it is lying to their children.  This was my opportunity to explain to her why I don't see it that way.

"It's a myth," I told her, "a legend."  These are concepts she is very familiar with, as she loves Greek mythology.  We have also talked many times about a legend having its roots in history, but being embellished over time. 

She seemed to accept this explanation, and we talked about St. Nicholas.  I have always told my children that Santa is St.Nicholas, and I love him so much that they know all about him.  She also never questioned the reality of St. Nicholas during the discussion; she had already intuited the way the tradition had developed from the real historical events of his life.

I told her what I really believe: that Santa is the spirit of St. Nicholas living on through all of us.  The spirit of giving in secret, without a chance of being thanked, is what Santa is all about.

We talked about how this is a big secret know only to "big people," and of course we talked about how she couldn't share it with other kids.  I told her that although I was disappointed when I found out about Santa, my best memories of the tradition are from when I was older, when I was able to help my mom be Santa to my younger siblings. 

 I asked her, "Would you like to help me and to be my 'elf' now?"

"Oh yes!"  Her eyes shone as she said it.  And I knew: the spirit of St. Nicholas is alive.

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