When I was four, one of my most exciting Christmases turned into one of my most heartbreaking ones.
On Christmas Eve, my family visited some relatives in a small town about an hour away. When we got back home, it was pretty late. But when we went inside, we found the most wonderful surprise.
Santa had been there while we’d been gone! My brother and I jumped up and down in excitement and repeatedly shouted, “Santa was here!” in jubilation.
He must’ve come a little early in the night, as it still wasn’t even midnight. It made sense for Santa to have come. After all, didn’t Santa show up when he knew no one would discover his presence?
There were gifts galore. Delighted, we unwrapped all of them. There were loads of toys, but the present that I remember most is one of two children’s red chairs. We took those outside onto the balcony and sat there for a bit. I thought about how this was the most perfect Christmas ever.
After we went back inside, we joined my mom at the kitchen table. Breathless with glee, I couldn’t help but share my joy. “I can’t wait for Santa to come next year!” I exclaimed. I didn’t say that because I wanted more gifts. I said that because the thought of Santa himself dropping by filled me with enthusiasm.
My mother replied, “Santa’s not real.”
Why would she tell me such an egregious lie? I retorted, “Then how’d all those presents get there?” Because obviously Santa must’ve brought them; they hadn’t been there when we’d left, and they were there when we returned.
“Do you remember when your dad went inside for a minute because he forgot to do something?”
A nagging sliver of horror entered my mind. “Yes.”
“He went to get the presents out and put them under the tree. It wasn’t Santa; it was your dad.”
This . . . actually made sense. I was crushed. Tears started to my eyes. I resented my mother for ruining my happiness.
Of course, as the years went by, I didn’t tell any of my peers that I knew Santa wasn’t real. I didn’t want to break their hearts, too. When they talked about Santa coming, I would feel jealous because I couldn’t muster up the same anticipation.
Later, I asked my mother why she’d told me Santa wasn’t real at the very height of my excitement about Santa. She explained that she didn’t want me to be “disappointed” when I discovered by myself that he wasn’t real. When she’d found out Santa wasn’t real, she’d been angry that her parents had lied to her. Well, okay. But I’d been bitter about my disillusionment. Was that any better?
My brother, who was two at the time, did not feel the same despair as I had. Probably because he was younger. Maybe the wondrousness of Santa hadn’t sunk in just yet.
Looking back on it, I guess you could say my reaction wasn’t logical. But I was four! And I’d been so happy about Santa having come, so I was devastated to be told it wasn’t true.
If you want to protect your child from disappointment, surely there’s a better time to tell them that Santa doesn’t exist?