I believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. In fact, I believe in anything that prolongs the temporary (and all too brief) magic that enchants childhood. Hard reality arrives soon enough.
This is probably why I go to great lengths to keep up what many people think is a ruse and a disservice to children. My feelings? No harm, no foul.
When my own kids were young (and even when they got too old), I always made sure to put out cookies and hot chocolate for the man in the red suit. One particular year, I even “dropped” reindeer poop on the porch. Those children are long gone from the house, but I suspect that they perform some similar ceremony under their own roofs now. Me, I still move that Santa plate and mug from the cabinet to the living room every Christmas Eve, a ritual that gives me comfort and no insignificant amount of pleasure.
This year, however, has turned out to be a particularly precarious one for the North Pole folk — and for us the ritual keepers. The three oldest grandkids have reached that age where hard-hearted school friends have blurted the “truth” and now rumors and gossip threaten the well-polished reputation of Mr. Claus and his flying sled.
“You know about Santa, don’t you?” the 10-year-old said, when I asked about her Santa list.
She narrowed her eyes, expecting me to surrender to the truth-serum power of her stare. But because I’ve walked this path as many times as the candles on her birthday cake, I kept my counsel and waited for her to continue.
“Come on, you know.” She poked me. “You don’t have to pretend anymore.”
Oh, pretend. Pretend, pretend, pretend. The wonder and sway of pretend. But — hold that idea of make believe for a few more paragraphs.
Earlier that week, one of my other granddaughters had detailed the shenanigans of Happy, her elf on the shelf. (By the way, Happy the Elf should really be renamed Naughty, and I have many examples that support my case.)
“He’s always getting in trouble!” she half-complained. Then her little sister told her own story of Happy’s not-so-happy deeds, all of which occur in the darkness of night while the household is fast asleep.
Their delight brought a smile to my lips for days. But it also reminded me of a strange letter I received at the newsroom many, many years ago, back when most people were blissfully unaware of the new technology of electronic mail. The letter-writer had her nose out of joint because I was perpetuating the lie of Santa Claus through something I had written. She accused me of being irresponsible and juvenile, a liar by any other name.
Some adults would probably agree. A substitute teacher in Brooklyn’s P.S. 321 recently made the news when he told first graders that Santa wasn’t real. The parents were incensed at the gall of the disbeliever, and the principal assured the community “we take this very seriously.” As everyone should.
So when my 10-year-old darling wanted to clue me in about the reality of the venerable Santa, I knew I had to answer with the appropriate respect and solemnity. I had to acknowledge her newfound wisdom without forsaking imagination and illusion.
So here’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I believe in the Santa who lives forever in your heart, the one who gives you a warm feeling when you do something kind and good, the one who makes us want to be better people. And I’ll believe that until I’m a doddering old fool who forgets what she’s doing in her living room with a platter of cookies and a mug of hot chocolate.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.