When can kids handle the truth about Santa?

My children Jake and Micah did not have sanitized childhoods. While other parents were firing up videos of Pingu, Barney and Teletubbies, we were letting them watch seriously age-inappropriate stuff. Tim Burton’s very dark animated Nightmare before Christmas was a family favourite, as were Six Feet Under and Scary Movie.

But we didn’t suck all the magic out of their childhoods. My husband and I organized the annual hunt for chocolate eggs that were cleverly hidden by the Easter Bunny, and lovingly penned long letters from Tessa the Tooth Fairy for each of the first few teeth they both lost. And, we really pulled out all the stops when it came to Santa.

Santa Claus was their star mystery man. Our kids wrote passionate letters to Santa every Christmas making a compelling case for why they deserved Buzz Lightyear, a Pokemon puzzle, or ten more packages of Crazy Bones. They often put in a good word for my husband and me too (although one year Jake in a conscientious attempt at full disclosure suggested that Santa may want to be a little less generous with my presents because I used the F-word too frequently especially when other drivers cut me off).

There is something so deliciously delightful about the deception of Santa Claus. Like many other parents, we wanted to keep the magic alive for as long as possible. But unfortunately there comes a time when you have to explain to your kids that Santa is a “concept” embodying the spirit of the season rather than a real person. For our son, Micah, that conversation took place when he was seven years old. It was early December and I was tucking him into bed.

“Mommy, is there really a Santa Claus?”

“Why would you ask that?”

“I’m worried that if there isn’t a Santa and I grow up believing that there is then I won’t buy my own kids presents when I grow up. If you forget to tell me that there isn’t a Santa, I will think that Santa will bring them presents. And if there isn’t a Santa they won’t get any presents and my kids will be sad they didn’t get anything for Christmas.”

It was at that moment that I knew my little guy could handle the truth so I told him. But Micah was adamant that we not reveal our secret to his older brother because at the age of 9 Jake still believed in Santa. I was actually very puzzled by this. How could my bright older son who possessed a wickedly dark sense of humour and understood every joke in The Simpsons and South Park still believe in Santa Claus? I decided that if his younger brother knew the truth, it was time for him to get with the program too.

It was December 24th, and we were having a family walk in a beautiful park in Montreal. Jake and I were walking ahead.

“Jake, do you believe in Santa Claus?”

“Of course not. I haven’t believed in Santa Claus for years.”

“But you talk about Santa Claus, and even write letters to him. Why didn’t you say something? ”

“Because Micah is so young and he still believes in Santa Claus. I didn’t want to ruin Christmas for Micah.”

Now if that isn’t the spirit of the season, I don’t know what is.

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