By: Holly Vanderhaar
I was a huge fan of The X-Files in the 1990s, and one of the show’s catch phrases was “I want to believe.” I had no idea how that phrase would eventually come home to roost.
I really didn’t expect that my daughters would still believe in Santa Claus by the time they were in 3rd grade. I’d be surprised if all of their Christmas-observing friends still believe, and I find it unlikely that none of the non-believing, worldly-wise 3rd graders has spilled the beans. The right jolly old elf hasn’t come up much in conversation this year, and my hunch was that they had their doubts, but maybe weren’t ready to ask the question outright, for fear of having their suspicions confirmed.
When I imagined having kids I also imagined that bidding the Santa days good-bye would be accompanied by a feeling of loss. I’m all for fostering magical thinking among the young, and I’ve never been the type of person to worry about the backlash, the sense of betrayal that they might feel at figuring out that Mom’s been lying to them all this time. I had no problem promoting the Red Suit Agenda. But the thing is, I’m kind of ready to be done. I feel like Mama Buzzkill for saying so. Parents of toddlers and preschoolers will probably recoil in horror, and may even consider calling Child Protective Services. But I’m tired. Playing Santa for twins, finding just the right equivalent-but-not-exactly-the-same presents that aren’t obviously from Target, and then handling the logistics of Christmas morning when we celebrate half a continent away from home is wearing me out. Also, I’m not too proud to admit it: I’m ready to start getting the credit for picking the jaw-dropping gift.
The truth is, the golden years of Santa are behind us. Gone are the wonder years, the years where excitement built to a fever pitch for weeks, the awe when the presents appeared overnight and the cookies and carrots were eaten. The last few Christmases, they’ve taken it for granted. The novelty and magic have worn off for them. They’ve also gotten savvy, and they’ve figured out how to work the system. This has coincided with a couple of particularly lean years —I was finishing grad school, and then I was unemployed for the better part of eight months— when I had to tell them “I can’t afford it” a lot, not just at Christmas, but all year. “That’s okay,” they announced, pleased with themselves. “We can just ask Santa for it!” It’s hard sledding to reinforce the non-material side of the holiday when, to them, Christmas is now one big gift grab, and I find it kind of distasteful, actually.
So, as I said, I really thought we were done this year. There was no discussion of whether Santa was watching them on his big wall of TVs, no “I’m gonna ask Santa to bring me ‘x’!” I adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, figuring that maybe we would just segue gracefully into a St. Nick-less holiday. And then Isabelle, on the way home from school the other day, said, “Oh, I still need to write my letter to Santa.”
Well, maybe next year.