It’s quite convenient that my son D. no longer believes in Santa Claus. He’s 14, and eventually it came time for him to face the reality of the brutal, responsibility-laden life of being an adult. Might as well start the training now.
Sure, some of the holiday magic went out with the milk and cookies and the carrots he used to leave for the reindeer. But at least now I can legitimately tell him, “No, you won’t be getting the Xbox 360 Limited Edition Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 Console because you don’t need another Xbox and no, I am not getting you the Beats by Dr. Dre High Definition noise-cancelling headphones because who needs $300 headphones?”
He now understands that his parents actually have to fund all of his Christmas presents and we therefore have the last word on all gift-related matters.
But sometimes I miss those days when we all used to believe.
I asked D. the other night if he remembered when he learned there was no Santa. He grunted and said, “Yeah,” and pulled a blanket over his head. We were sitting on the couch watching “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (actually, I was watching while he was watching and texting).
D. was 9, and I had brought him with me to a Unitarian Universalist Church service for the first time. I was generally a Congregationalist, and had checked out a few other churches. But I liked what I had heard about the Unitarians’ open-mindedness to different religions so I figured I’d give it a shot.
D. didn’t want to go to children’s church since he didn’t know anyone, so he stayed with me in the service. We sang a Christian hymn (with all the “Gods” taken out), listened to announcements, and then it came time for the sermon. There was a lay person giving it that day. I don’t remember exactly the topic—I was too busy studying the little Zen garden and collection of rocks on the altar up front and the interesting tapestries on the wall. But at some point, I heard him say, “I always thought God was like Santa. So, when I found out Santa wasn’t real, I started wondering if God was real.”
I snapped to attention, and jerked my head toward D. He was sitting in the pew on my left, looking straight ahead. Could it be that he missed it? I squeezed his hand. But when he looked back at me, I saw the shocked expression on his face. Oh no.
I didn’t say anything, hoping maybe he’d forget, or that maybe he misunderstood.
When the service was over, we headed out to the car, and started driving home. We made it about halfway there. But then I heard him say from the back seat, “So, there’s no Santa?”
“Oh, D. Santa is…he is…um…Santa is…Santa’s whoever wants to surprise you with special gifts on Christmas. So me, and Daddy, and Menga and Bapop…”
“You’re Santa?” There was a long, disappointed pause. “Oh.”
I didn’t know what else to say, so I stayed quiet, and kept driving.
“So if Santa isn’t real, what about the Easter Bunny?”
Oh, boy. Not just Christmas, but now Easter, too? What would I say? I wished my mother were there. She would have made up something.
“Well, D…I guess….um….no, there’s no Easter Bunny either. It’s something we do as parents to make the holiday extra fun for you…Easter, and Christmas…”
We drove a bit further. But of course, it didn’t end there.
“Mommy?” I looked in the rearview mirror.
“Yeah?” I said.
“What about leprechauns?”
Leprechauns. So there went the Irish heritage, too. Those little leprechauns followed Santa and the Easter Bunny right out the fictional door.
Now that I think about it, maybe I should get D. those noise-cancelling earphones after all. There’s a lot of noise in this world.