I may not remember much about my childhood, but I do remember this: Third grade. Mrs. Cannon’s class. She’s reading Beverly Cleary’s Superfudge. Partway through, she stops and says, “OK. Anyone who still believes in Santa, step out into the hall.”
While I may not have had the vocabulary at the time, I was definitely thinking, “Um, what the fuck? Did this lady just basically say Santa’s not real and if any of you turd-brains still think he is, remove yourselves so I don’t have to carry that weight on my shoulders?” She did. She most certainly did.
Naturally, I stepped out into the hall, as one with zero popularity self-preservation skills does. I’d like to think it was due to my unwavering commitment to truth-telling and an inborn disdain for caving to peer pressure just to keep up appearances. Really, I was either too stunned to do anything but follow my naive feet, or knew something major was about to shatter my world and wanted to control how and when that happened. (Not on your watch, Mrs. Cannon!)
So, I spent a few awkward minutes of zero eye contact in the hallway with one — one! — other brave young soul unafraid to pledge their allegiance to a jolly fat man in a red suit who can somehow squeeze himself down millions of chimneys around the world in one night. And then I badgered my mum into telling me the truth on the ride home.
I honestly can’t remember how she explained it, or how I took it. (My guess is: not well.) There are different schools of thought on Santa. Some parents never inculcate their kids with the myth, either because of the its roots in paganism, or because they don’t want to be party to a widespread societal lie. Others will assure even their questioning fifth graders that St. Nick is real, countering all the seeds of doubt planted by kids on the bus with, “Well, what do they know?”
Regardless of where you fall on the Santa spectrum, if your kids have ever been to a mall during the month of December, there will likely come a time when they’ll turn to you and ask, “Is that guy real?” And you will seize with roiling panic, look them in their innocent eyes and utter that classic parenting escape-hatch of a question — “Well, what do you think?” — before breaking down and admitting that ruddy, Marlboro and Irish Coffee-smelling dude whose lap you made them sit on for pictures was sus and you’ve been fleecing their delicate, formative psyche for years. But for a good reason!
Or maybe not. Maybe you’re more sanguine and prepared. Perhaps your parents explained it to you in a magical, spirit-of-the-season, non-traumatic way. Perhaps you were too young, or too old, for it to leave much of a mark.
Which begs the question this time of year: How — and when — is the best way to tell your kids the truth about Santa? Tell us your tips, tricks, heartwarming stories, or epic fails, and we’ll round them up in a future post — and hopefully help other parents better navigate the dilemma this Christmas season. (Or at least be assured that someone else did it worse.)