I found this essay last year and I bookmarked it to use when my oldest child asks for the truth about Santa, because I knew this gig wouldn’t last much longer. This wise writer, Martha Brockenbrough, answered her daughter who asked if mom was Santa:
Thank you for your letter. You asked a very good question: “Are you Santa?”
I know you’ve wanted the answer to this question for a long time, and I’ve had to give it careful thought to know just what to say.
The answer is no. I am not Santa. There is no one Santa.
I am the person who fills your stockings with presents, though. I also choose and wrap the presents under the tree, the same way my mom did for me, and the same way her mom did for her. (And yes, Daddy helps, too.)
I imagine you will someday do this for your children, and I know you will love seeing them run down the stairs on Christmas morning. You will love seeing them sit under the tree, their small faces lit with Christmas lights.
This won’t make you Santa, though.
Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch.
It’s a big job, and it’s an important one. Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe: in yourself, in your friends, in your talents and in your family. You’ll also need to believe in things you can’t measure or even hold in your hand. Here, I am talking about love, that great power that will light your life from the inside out, even during its darkest, coldest moments.
Santa is a teacher, and I have been his student, and now you know the secret of how he gets down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve: he has help from all the people whose hearts he’s filled with joy.
With full hearts, people like Daddy and me take our turns helping Santa do a job that would otherwise be impossible.
So, no. I am not Santa. Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness. I’m on his team, and now you are, too.
I love you and I always will.
This year, my son is almost there. He’s 10 and the question is at the tip of his tongue. But each time he opens his mouth to ask, I can see it in his eyes–he hesitates and wants to believe. He asks questions about how practical this whole Santa thing is (Isn’t that a fake beard? How can there be so many Santas at so many breakfasts and malls? Why doesn’t he Ho Ho Ho? Where did he park the sleigh?), and there, in his wide, brown eyes, are his pleas to give him the answer he wants to hear. So I lie to my child. I make something up and he chooses to believe it, to believe me, to believe in magic, to believe in something bigger.
I was reminded the other day that we usually find what we’re looking for (except when I’m late and looking for my car keys). He’s looking for me to reaffirm that there really is goodness in this world, pure joy and happiness, unconditional love. That there is universal truth in the love that wraps around all of us like a blanket. He watches Santa’s tracks on NORAD and he is thrilled to see that so many children around the world are blessed with happiness and magic, to see that others believe.
I’m looking for much of the same–to believe in hope, happiness, magic, unconditional love for myself, for my children, for all of us. So I have no problem willfully lying to my child about this. I will give my son what he is looking for. This is, however, becoming problematic for me. This year, the children’s letters to Santa included not only things they wanted, but also a long list of gift requests for me, all our neighbors, and many other family members. So to ensure they continue to believe in Santa, I’ve had to essentially double my gift buying. And on Christmas Eve under the cover of darkness, I will need to prowl through the neighborhood leaving gifts on doorsteps. Speaking of having hope, that night my hope will be a neighbor does not mistaken me for a burglar.
But what I love about the letter to Lucy is that it not only implores her to have hope, but teaches resilience–that when our hope is gone, we’re in charge of giving hope to others, providing love and happiness to others and to ourselves. We find what we’re looking for, we don’t always find what we hope for. So it is our responsibility to make positive changes in this world and join the team of hope. Hope for better days. Hope for fairness and equality and justice. Hope for loving and peaceful and satisfying lives. We need to believe. We need to believe in and trust in ourselves, in our abilities, in our decisions, in our innate worthiness. We need to believe in and trust others, in their kindness and support, and innate goodness and humanity.
My son still hopes and believes. I’m well aware this may be the last year he believes in Santa as a concrete entity. But I believe he will always be on the team of hope. He so wants to continue believing that this year, he’s offering Santa a salad alongside the cookies he’s baked him. He wants Santa to live a long, healthy life, and even a kid believes eating too many cookies can’t be good for you.