When They Stop Believing
(Originally posted at The Mess That Is Me 12/2011)
“Lyla said that Santa wasn’t real.”
Sarah froze, a sudden panic of sadness settling in. Dylan was only seven-years old, a first grader. She was too young to have her Christmas fantasy taken away. With a lump in her throat, Sarah asked, “And what did you say?”
Dyl just shrugged her tiny shoulders and said, “I told her he was too real and she was wrong.”
Sarah breathed a mother’s sigh of relief, but still, that seed had been planted, and she was beginning to question the validity of things. Her baby girl was growing up.
Friends can ruin all the fun as they are in such a rush to grow up. “You still believe in the Tooth Fairy? That’s so kindergarten of you.” The magic has been sucked out of their life and they’re determined to take as many down with them as they can.
Sarah spent that night fighting back the tears over a period in her daughter’s life that was slowly slipping away. It’s an emotion that most mothers can relate to. When our boys discovered the truth, Char cried, while I just asked if we had to buy the same number of gifts as we did when they believed. My mother actually got angry with me when I discovered the truth, as if I were taking something away from her. I didn’t grasp that until I got older and had children of my own, but when they stop believing in Santa, then the game stops for me, as well. As parents, we do lose something; we lose the magic of being the Santa that our children believe in and go back to being just Mom and Dad.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the boys beginning to lose the fantasy. It was as if it had just faded with time in a slow revelation that no one wanted to discuss. The boys would ask Char if Santa was real, and she would always respond, “Santa doesn’t bring toys to people who don’t believe.” At twenty-three Nathan still expects gifts to be snuck under the tree!
No, I don’t have the recollection of them growing past believing. I am left with the memory of the excitement and joy that enveloped them those final two months of every year. They were as overjoyed to see Santa as I was to be him. The boys’ enthusiasm on Christmas morning was stronger than any coffee Starbucks ever brewed. No sooner had Santa and Mrs. Claus laid their heads upon their pillows than the door was shoved open and tiny hands were shaking us awake as prepubescent voices screamed, “He came! He came!”
Now, we get to sleep in and we’re the ones who have to wake them up in order to get our day started. The bed-head is still the same, but instead of wide eyes of wonder, we’re greeted with groggy mumbles of “Five more minutes.” The packages, however, are still ripped open with shiny paper flying every which way only to rain down on felines who have already found the catnip Santa put in their stockings. The cats, of course, still believe.
The age of believing is such a small window in the grand scheme of years. Why anyone would want to ruin it for any child is beyond my ability to comprehend. Reality will hit them fast enough; allow them to relish the holiday magic as long as possible. I’ve known pastors who, in their pursuit of truth, wanted this myth stamped out and exposed. While I can admire their religious zeal, I’ve known too many who have lied and manipulated in other areas of their lives to make their Boycott Santa Campaign compelling.
Furthermore, I’ve had family members who have told their own little children that Santa was a fake out of a misguided notion that a tradition ends with the passing of the one who began it. To me that was the greatest disrespect that could have been shown to the memory of the man who loved the joy of Christmas and what it brought to his grandchildren. I firmly believe that if you begin a tradition during the age of make believe you need to keep it going until the kids have discovered who to really thank for the gifts. To change things in midstream is to make the little ones grow up too soon and really, aren’t our kids already racing to adulthood?
I miss the time of little hands and noses pressed against the window just knowing that Santa is coming. Or when the blinking lights of planes overhead just had to be Rudolph pulling that magical sleigh loaded down with gifts. “Hurry, Daddy! I’ve got to get the cookies and milk out.”
The cookies and milk don’t get set out anymore, nor the carrots for the reindeer. It’s just an empty plate and cup now as little kids have grown into men and women and the myth of Santa Claus is left behind with the broken toys. There are other events in their life to enjoy, of course, but none hold the childlike innocence of the Christmas fantasy. We’ve all grown up and it leaves me just a little sad at what was lost.
Hold on tight, Dyl, to that Christmas magic. Believe even when everyone else stops, and you’ll be the one to keep Santa in people’s hearts.
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Until next time, keep chasing your fantasies!