My daughter is on a crusade. She wants everyone to know that Father Christmas is not real.
It all started a dew days ago on our way to her Brownies club. We were stuck in a traffic jam, which stretched our usual eight-minute ride into a very long journey.
She had been unusually quiet, when she broke the question “Mum, is it true that Santa is not real?” I did not know what to say. Father Christmas is certainly not real, but how do you break the news to a nine-year-old girl who you have been encouraging to believe in him?
To buy some time and contemplate my thoughts I asked: “Why do you ask this?”
“Rachel told me,” she replied visibly concerned.
I was not prepared to have this conversation with her. But I had to say something and I could feel that at that moment there was not a right answer. Yet trapped in a car, there was no way I could get away with it. I had to give the game away. So I mumbled a few incoherent sentences “Santa is alive in our hearts. He is a human invention. He is the symbol of generosity. He is as real as we want him to be.”
“That does not make any sense” said my 5 year old son. He was of course absolutely right.
I grew up a believer and have fond memories of all the anticipation surrounding Father Christmas. Even when I found out he was not real I kept enjoying the fantasy, as it added to the Christmas atmosphere. Not to mention that I was getting the presents as well. So based solely on my own experience I’ve always thought that Santa was a justifiable lie. And so I encouraged my children to believe in him as a real person. It was only recently that a good friend of mine told me she was petrified when she found out Father Christmas was not real. She still remembers when and how the news was broken to her by a neighbor.
There and then I knew that my daughter would be more like my friend.
She was upset. “So there are NO flying reindeers?”
And then she bombarded me with questions to which I did not have any answers.
What about my letters to Santa? Nobody has read them? Have they all gone straight into the bin?
Who brings the presents? Is that you and dad?
Who eats the carrot and the juice we leave for Santa on Christmas Eve?
Then she went quiet for a few minutes before adding decisively,
“Mum I am upset. Tomorrow I am going to tell Kiran and Morgan, and they are going to know that Santa is not real!”
I had never expected that this would be an issue for her. It had not certainly been for me. I also thought that deep down she already knew and it was not a big deal to her. I was obviously wrong.
At that moment I felt I had failed her. Worse, I felt that I had taken away her innocence and ruined an element of her childhood identity.
But at the same time I found her reaction exceptionally sweet. Here I had my nine year old daughter with whom I can have intelligent conversations about any topic – we talk about everything from women’s right in Ancient Greece and the lack of women scientists to why the Beatles marked the beginning of a new era in music – being upset because Santa is not real.
Or was she hurt just because I had lied to her?
When we returned home she stormed into the house and talked to her dad about what she had found out about Santa. He was to blame as well.
Just before bedtime she came to me “Mum, I am disappointed. You should not have lied to me.”
I said I would never have thought that this would hurt her.
I said that by no means was this intended to be a lie, but a story told to many children by their parents to nurture a Christmas fantasy.
I said that I wanted her to know that I would never lied to her. EVER.
I said that I am sorry.
She felt relieved and reassured. She kept quiet for a few minutes and then she spoke again. “Thank you mum! Now tell me the truth. Is God real?”