Tonight as I was scrolling through Google+, I saw a person comment that if they had money they’d start a company to make sure that if a kid were to Google “Is Santa Real?” that they’d get back a site that said yes.
There were a lot of +1′s, but a few people tried to shame parents for lying to their children or for promoting a religion those, and some assumed that if your kids believe in Santa that you’re bribing them to behave.
And it made me sad.
I was probably about 8 when I found out Santa wasn’t real. I don’t remember how I found out (some childhood memories of mine are hazy), but it was probably from my friends- I was the youngest in my grade. My sister was younger than I was when she found out, and broke my mom’s heart when she said “Santa’s really more of a spirit in all of us.”
This didn’t stop us from enjoying Santa. We still left out cookies, and we still got gifts from Santa. I think that largely had to do with us spending Christmas with our younger cousins… but Santa was fun. As we got older, we didn’t get big gifts from Santa, but the stockings were filled with small items that my Mom knew would make us smile. We were all excited to have a plate for Santa when my kids were born. It didn’t matter than my one year old was too young to care why we were putting cookies on a plate.
One year my sister (who was going back to Japan) got a stocking filled with tampons. I’ve gotten sewing kits, Jelly Bellys, and Indiana Jones playing cards. I’ve hidden ornaments, candy I’ve bought, bookmarks…
My little sister was right. Santa is a spirit in us- I see it each year. There’s something magical in being able to give someone a small gift that didn’t cost much, but means a lot.
So yes, my kids believe in Santa. They believe in the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny (though admittedly, I didn’t encourage those. They heard about the Tooth Fairy from Super Why and the Easter Bunny popped up in the Santa Clause sequels). You might think it’s damaging to let my kids believe in something that isn’t real- but Santa isn’t just about getting gifts. It’s about a spirit of giving. It’s about love. It’s about embracing the wonder that comes with being a child. Honestly, I’m trying to avoid the bribing my kids to be good. My parents didn’t really hold that over our heads- in fact we sort of make fun of that mentality. While at Disneyland some time ago, we saw a mother point out a visible ride monitor and tell her child that Mickey was watching. The child was terrified.
As a kid, I believed in a lot of things that I knew weren’t real, if that makes sense. I knew that fairies weren’t really here or there, cajoling flowers to open- but I still clapped every time a productions of Peter Pan asked the audience to clap if we believe in fairies.
A lot of people believe it’s wrong to lie to kids. But I’d say that the ability to believe in magic outweighs it. Oddly, it was my belief in things like a man being able to fly around the world in one night that led me to science. I learned about how fast people can actually travel, and found that fascinating. In reading about the Nativity Story, it led me to learn about planetary alignments that seem to form a giant star in the sky (that being what scientists think was the explanation for the star the Magi saw)- and that’s fascinating too. And in my search for fairies, I learned so much about nature that when I accepted that they weren’t really real… I didn’t mind. Believing in the extraordinary taught me about embracing wonder and joy. Two things that have kept my mind curious to this day.
The world is an ugly place. Why not let kids be kids and have imaginary friends, believe in Santa, and enjoy hunting for mythical creatures that don’t exist? It’s that curious nature that makes inventors, artists, and other dreamers of the world. We should embrace it.