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Santa Has Left the Building

I’ve always been ambivalent about the whole Santa thing: I enjoy the magic and childlike wonder, but feel incredibly uncomfortable actively encouraging my children to believe a lie. So I’ve lived in this uncomfortable zone at Christmas time, deflecting questions and trying to avoid all-out lying to my kids. And yes, we go see Santa for photos, and hang stockings, and all that – but we don’t do Elf on a Shelf or go crazy with the Santa idea.

This year just after school started, the mom of one of Cora’s friends pulled me aside and told me that Cora had told her daughter Laura that Santa Claus wasn’t real. In a very sweet and non-threatening way, the mom asked me to please ask Cora to respect other family’s traditions and not ruin the illusion of Santa Claus. Mortified, I assured the mom that Cora and I had never even had “the” Santa talk, and as far as I knew Cora still believed, and perhaps it was a misunderstanding?

Then this weekend we were getting into the car at an outdoor shopping area, replete with lights and Santa posters, and Cora asked Brian point-blank if Santa was real. Brian completely deflected the question and we breathed a sigh of relief.

THEN came this week.

Monday afternoon, Cora was moody and weepy; when questioned, she admitted she’d had a fight with her BFF, Laura. I asked what they’d fought about, and Cora said evasively, “I can’t remember.”

Tuesday afternoon found Cora even more upset, made worse by the fact that I had to rush off to teach right after she got home. Cora even followed me out into the alley as I drove away, weeping and running next to the car – something she’s never done before. I rolled down my window and pulled her in for an intense hug.

“Baby, what’s going on with you? Did you fight with Laura again?”

Tears spilled down her face as she nodded.

“I tell you what – when I get home tonight you’ll already be in bed, but I’ll come into your room and we’ll talk and talk until you’re all finished with words. How does that sound?” Cora snuffled a “yes” and I headed off.

Later that night I climbed into Cora’s bed and we began the process of verbally unwinding my poor, tense child. We chatted about lots of things – chocolate, the Nutcracker, memories of my childhood – but took never landed on anything serious or stressful. When I finally saw my poor child relax into her bed, I said lightly, “Well, are you all talked out? Ready to go to sleep?”

Cora sighed. “I just don’t know how I can get to sleep when my heart feels so heavy.”


“Well, what do you think is weighing on your heart right now?” I asked evenly. “Did you and Laura fight again today?”

Cora nodded sadly.

“What was the fight about?”

“I don’t remember,” she said evasively.

“Hmm,” I mused, “Was it about who got to choose what you’d play at recess? Or was it about which book is better? Or was it about Santa? Or was it . . .”

“I just don’t understand how Laura can believe in Santa!” Cora burst out.

There it was.

“Well, what makes you think Santa’s not real?” I asked.

Cora rolled towards me, all business. “Because I’ve looked at the pictures we take with Santa each year. And they are ALL DIFFERENT PEOPLE. NOT the same person AT ALL.”

“True,” I acknowledged, “But couldn’t those just be people helping a Santa Claus out?”

Cora shook her head furiously. “NO. Because another thing is that reindeer can’t fly! I mean it, Mom, I’ve looked it up in the library. No type of reindeer can fly. So it’s physically impossible for one person to visit EVERY house in ONE night. It’s just not possible. And I figured this out all by myself, and I’ve tried to tell other people and EVERYONE gets mad at me! And people have told me that if I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny – which I don’t, but that’s another thing – then I must not believe in Jesus’ birthday and if I don’t believe in Jesus’ birthday then I must not be a good person. And I AM!” she shuddered. “I AM a good person! And people are mad at me for telling the TRUTH!”

And she collapsed, exhausted.

“Oh, my poor, sweet girl,” I said, snuggling her into my arms. “I can’t imagine how much it hurt your heart to have people say they didn’t believe you, and to tell you that you’re not a good person. I’m so sorry, baby.”

I turned Cora around so she could look at me.

“I want to talk about this a bit, and it’s going to be kind of hard, but stick with me, ok?” She nodded, her faced turned trustingly towards mine.

I took a deep breath.

“First, let’s talk about Easter. There’s the tradition, and then the truth behind it. And the truth is that Easter is the day we celebrate Christ’s victory over death, the day He gave us the biggest, best gift of all –the gift of salvation. Then there’s the tradition of the Easter bunny, which you’re right, is not real at all and is just a tradition lots of families celebrate at Easter time. I’m not sure why it came about or what it has to do with Jesus, but it’s not nearly as important as what Jesus did. Agreed?”

Cora nodded.

“Ok, so then let’s look at the tradition and the truth in Christmas. The truth is that Christmas is the day we celebrate Christ’s birthday, the day He loved us so much He came into the world and became like us, for us. We give each other gifts in memory of the gifts Jesus was given, and to remind us that Jesus is the ultimate gift. Then there’s the tradition of Santa Claus. That was started hundreds of years ago and is based on a real man named St. Nicholas, who lived almost two thousand years ago and did a lot to help the poor and little children. He gave gifts to people who couldn’t afford anything, and became associated with Christmas for that reason. St. Nicholas eventually became St. Nick, then Santa Claus was invented!

“So no, Santa Claus isn’t real, but it’s a huge tradition here in America and millions of kids believe in him – heck, lots of grown-ups want to believe in him too!”

“But why?” Cora asked in frustration. “Why do people want to believe in him so much when he’s clearly NOT REAL?”

“Well,” I said reasonably, “Let’s look at it. Here’s someone who watches you all year long, and at the end of the year, no matter how bad you’ve been he still loves you and wants to give you a gift. Who wouldn’t want to believe in someone who loves you that much? I believe there are a lot of people out there who need something bigger than themselves to believe in – who want desperately to believe in a person who loves them that much.

“But as cool as that tradition is, as amazing as Santa Claus might be, the truth BEHIND that tradition is EVEN BIGGER, isn’t it?” I continue. “Because there actually IS someone out there that watches us all the time and loves us IN SPITE OF all the stuff we do wrong, isn’t there?”

“YES!” shrieked Cora. “It’s GOD! And he loved us SO MUCH he gave us the BEST gift of all – JESUS! The truth is EVEN BETTER than the tradition!”

Cora collapsed on her bed, looking as if a weight had been lifted off of her. And the next morning Cora went off to school, confident and happy, with a song in her heart.

This is not where it ends, of course: Cora and I spent a good half-hour that same night talking about respecting other peoples’ feelings and beliefs, and she’s had a rough week dealing with what she sees as hypocrisy all around her.

But let’s stop there for now. Because my six-year-old is excited beyond belief at the Truth that’s bigger than the tradition, and that’s enough work for one night.


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