To Lie or Not to Lie – The Santa Dilemma

me and the fat man 1976
me and the fat man 1976

I grew up in a house where there was absolutely nothing and no one worse than a liar.  Every crime is substantially worsened by the commitment of a lie to hide your responsibility.

In spite of being a good girl, I had a rebellious streak, impulse control issues and a perfectionist mom, so needless to say, I got in trouble a lot.  And, I was normal enough, I lied to try to get out of it.  But if I got caught in the lie?  Oh, Nellie!  Punishment was always a gazillion times worse if I lied.

So, on or about Christmas 1978, when I discovered that, in fact, the jolly fat man my mother kept dragging me to get a picture with every year was a fake? A lie??  Oh, Nellie!

Despite the assuredly comical conversation I guarantee I had with my mother upon discovering the falsehoods she compounded year after year, I was devastated.

Not to learn that Santa was not “real” but that my honour-bound, truth-telling mom had lied.  I was 9 when I promised myself that I would absolutely NOT lie to any unlucky souls borne of me about Santa.

Whenever we make such bold statements, we are inevitably tested.  It’s just a kharmic fact (facts, according to me, that is!).

Fast forward 22 years and Danielle gave birth to a miracle of a boy.  Kharma is about to bite me in the butt:  as kids do, my son tested my resolve and my commitment to the word “promise” when he was about 3.

One snowy evening, I picked my little buddy up from daycare with the intention of heading to the mall to shop and get our annual photo with the fat man.  We arrived with an unusual minimum of fuss and headed to the centre court for our visit with Santa.

The year he asked "Is Santa real?"
The year he asked “Is Santa real?”

We waited, like all the other good little girls and boys in line, as Santa took time to find out what each child wished for, took a pic and got their disgusting candy cane.

All this waiting was hard for my boy who suffers from the same excessive energy I do and also struggles with his impulse control.  The wait invited a host of ways to get into trouble so  I did my best to distract him.  Somewhere, somehow, in the distraction process, I made a mistake.  I made a comment to another mother and my ever-eavesdropping child heard me.  With his innocent, doey, bright, brown eyes, he looked up at me and said:

“Mommy, is Santa real?”

EERRRRRCHCHH!  I skidded to a mental stop!  Shit!  I hoped I’d have at least another year to prepare for this!  Of course, that mother I had just spoken to, turned to see what I would say.  I stood there like a fool, hemming and hawing for what felt like a full hour, but I’m sure was only 15 seconds.  So I knelt down to his level and took his tiny hands in mine and began:

“Well, buddy”  I started, “Santa is just his nickname.  His real name was Kristopher Kringle and he was from Sweden”

His little mouth made an “oh” and his eyes widened. He leaned in to hear better.  I had him hooked.  The other mother narrowed her eyes a little.  I could tell she was judging and that she could tell I was struggling with the lie, like a deer in the headlights struggles to unfreeze themselves and flee.  She was braced to rush her perfect little Suzie away as I struggled for words, lest I ruin her only form of discipline.  I knew I could save this if I could focus, so I took a deep breath and continued.

“Kris was a really nice man and he was married to a really nice lady and they lived in a pretty little town in the mountains.  Sadly, they didn’t have any kids of their own and they really loved seeing kids smile with happiness.

But this was a really long time ago and back then, families didn’t have as much money as they do now.  Kids didn’t have a lot of toys and they didn’t get toys for Christmas.  One year, Kris had an idea to share his love of children.  He decided he would make a toy for each little boy and girl in his village and sneak it under their Christmas tree as a surprise when they woke up.  And guess what?!”

“They were surprised, mommy!”

“You bet they were surprised, buddy.  What a nice man he was, wasn’t he?  Well, he was so happy to see the kids so happy that year, he decided to do it every year and that made him and all the kids happy.  But he didn’t want the kids to know it was him who left the present, so he put a pretend name on the tag:  Santa”

But you know what, buddy?  He was just a man, like grandpa was a man.  Remember how grandpa had to go away, forever?”

He nodded solemnly.  He remembered how sad I was when I lost my father.

“Well, so did he.  And when he did, there was no one to make the toys anymore and hide them for the kids.  But guess what?! Some of the girls and boys Kris had made toys for had grown up now and what do you think they did?”

“They made toys for the kids!” he squealed.  He was really into my story.  The mother who had been so prepared to run, had quietly leaned a little closer.

“They made toys for their kids and they hid them under the Christmas tree wrapped in bright red paper with a big white bow.  Wouldn’t that be pretty?”  I smiled conspiratorially with him cause that’s how I always wrap my “Santa” presents.

“And what name do you think the parents put on the present?”

“SANTA!” he exclaimed at the top of his lungs and clapped his hands together.  By this time, I had attracted a little bit of attention with my story.  I could see a couple of other little faces with their wide eyes and cheerio mouths, holding mommy’s hand and leaning in to hear our story.  It was a magical moment for me.

“Yes, honey, Santa.  So, even though the real Santa had to go away, we still celebrate his life at Christmas time.  We pay tribute to kindness and generosity and the magical way we feel when we make someone happy by giving them a present.  It’s the spirit of happiness he created at Christmas that we call Santa now.  Does that make sense?”

I could see heads bobbing all around me, not just from my own child.  I knew they were judging me harshly at first for not lying to my toddler.  By the end, they seemed to have changed their minds.

I think the clincher for the parents who witnessed this was the moment my boy threw his arms around me, hugged me fiercely and stage whispered: “I love Santa, mommy”.

That’s right.  I told him the truth and he still loves Santa.

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3 thoughts on “To Lie or Not to Lie – The Santa Dilemma”

  1. I just melted. I’ve always wondered how to handle this. I have so many beautiful Santa memories, and they weren’t ruined when I found out the truth… but I did cry. The saving grace was that I was immediately enrolled in helping to keep the belief going for my younger cousins, and that transition to being part of the adult, in-the-know club was enough to keep me happy.

    You are clearly not just a wonderful mother, but a creative and thoughtful person. Thanks for sharing this story!

    1. Aww, thanks, Jennie! I do have some wonderful Santa memories too, especially since having my own children. I feel the magic of Christmas through them – children embody the spirit of the season, for sure. 🙂

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