Sometimes it surprises me that my 6-year-old still believes in “Santa Claus”. I might be labeled a “mean” mom because I’ve told him over and over that “Santa Claus”, the “Tooth Fairy”, and other such characters of our childhood are made up, make-believe childhood icons that are wildly imaginary, figments of children’s imaginations. I of course didn’t explain it to my child in that formal way, but I have prided myself in trying to break him in slowly that these characters, these wishful beings are really just about our imaginations, our dreams (and of course commerce—but I’ll clue him in on that more complex stuff later).
Anyway, I’m always surprised when each year he still talks about Santa Claus. I keep thinking to myself, isn’t he over that yet? But he still believes. Even when he writes out his Christmas list and gives it to me, or even when he asks me directly how many items he can ask for on Christmas, or even when I’ve told him straight out over the years that Santa Claus is not real, mom and dad buy the gifts, wrap them, and put them under the fake tree. I know, it seems mean, but quite frankly, I don’t see how believing in Santa Claus hinders the wonderment of the holiday season.
I’m not a scrooge, but I just don’t see the point in drawing out this highly commercial, already characterized image to my kid. But in that same vein, I also understand that images are what kids can wrap their minds around, it’s what they can cling to for understanding. Santa isn’t conceptual, it’s literal for many kids, and no matter how a parent may try to convince a child that Santa (the one splattered on t.v. or sitting in the middle of the mall) isn’t real, they still have that innocence, that wonderment, that will to believe—just because.
As a matter of fact, just the other day, my six year old said to me, “since Santa Claus is so round there’s no way he could possibly fit down our chimney.” I listened for what I thought would be the ultimate moment of epiphany…but instead, he just said, “that’s why Santa just slides the gifts down the chimney and somehow the gifts slide over to the Christmas tree,” (I sighed to myself and smiled inside at his innocence). I did not have a comment that day. What does a parent say to that? I did not have the heart to break it to him one more time that Santa isn’t real. There is this obvious magical appeal even if it seems absurd. My grown up truths can not compete with the magic of a child’s imagination.