by Christina L. Moreland
I remember, even as early as first and second grade, when he was just 6 and 7, he would come home, having heard some kid on the bus say “Santa’s not real, it’s the parents,” and he’d started questioning…
I’d look at him and say, “Well, what do you think? How would Dad and I be able to pull all of that off every year?”
He had reasoned in his own mind by then that there was real Christmas magic and he’d experienced it.
Fast forward to this year, his 6th grade year — the year where I’ve had to educate him about hygiene, lockdown drills at schools, physical development in boys and girls, and all sorts of conversations you begin to have with your children as they approach teenage years.
He still believed!
Wholeheartedly, like not even questioning Santa!
He’d come to look forward to the day after Thanksgiving, when our elf, Fred, comes into our home for the 30 days leading up to Christmas. In fact, I initially hesitated to get a shelf elf, thinking he’d figure it out quickly and that ultimately the elf would reduce the years we had for him to believe… but Ashton saw other friends and even the teachers in the classrooms had elves, so he wrote to Santa asking for one.
Sure enough, special delivery from the North Pole came “Fred” — the box was still cold from the elf’s travel! And Ashton had always woken up quickly, anxious to run downstairs and find where in the house Fred had hidden this time.
I had to tell him this year. I knew it would be hard. I knew he’d likely cry, doubt us and our judgement, maybe scream… my niece had locked herself in her room for two days when she had found out.
I was literally TERRIFIED. But I knew I had to tell him. How could I not? Most of his friends had become “enlightened” by that point, and a kid could get beat up on the bus or at school for things like that.
My husband officially initiated the talk, and then Ashton came in to tell me he knew. I had tears in my eyes.
“Are you Ok?” I asked.
“Yeah, Mom, I’m great, and I have the perfect place for Fred.”
I asked him, “Then you knew already, or at least had a clue?”
“No!” he said, and he was dead serious.
I was shocked at his belief all this time. And I was so grateful to have gotten 11 years with this Christmas magic.
“Are you mad at us?” I asked him.
“No, and now I can help you.”
My amazing, brilliant kid knew he had BECOME part of the magic of Christmas.
We explained how, for us, that was what we got out of Christmas when they were little — seeing their little faces light up with excitement, hiding the elf at night, laying out the presents on Christmas Eve.
And he totally got it. And he was happy to step up and be a part of it to give the magic to his brother.
Then I got really serious and said, “But did you and Dad talk about Jesus and God?” He said yes.
And I continued, “My fear was when we had this conversation that it would cause you to doubt Jesus and God, the REAL reasons for Christmas in the first place. And that is something you never have to wonder about.” He said he knew, and I could tell he really did.
Then I continued, “But if you ever do have doubts, that’s normal too, but you can pray for God to help you be close to Him.”
“Ok, Mom,” and the conversation was over.
[It had lasted all of about 10 minutes, but it was
a profound moment — both in my son’s life as
he continues to grow and mature, but also in
our lives as parents.]
He could have responded in any number of ways — he could have been angry, thinking we’d deceived him all these years, he could have been sad, he could have been confused and turned inward, doubting other major things we’ve told him, like his Christianity and a sense of where he came from, his place in the Universe. It really scared me to think he’d go through something like this, but I still had to tell him.
I’m happy we were the ones to talk to Ashton about the true meaning of Christmas and that the idea of Santa took a backseat to a bigger conversation. And I’m proud of his response. Knowing what I know now, I came away with a few parenting lessons I’d like to share:
1. The message had to come from us. My worst fear in planning for this conversation was that Ashton would feel betrayed and struggle with trusting me again.
I really had no idea how he would respond. But I was certain, and I still stand by, the message and the way we shared it — the timing, the bigger message about Jesus, the opportunity for him to step up as big brother — all had to come from us.
If another kid had convinced him before he had a chance to run it past me, we would have lost the opportunity to connect with him like we did.
It’s absolutely necessary that parents have this conversation with their children before someone else does. So my advice is to have it when you feel “it’s time.” There’s no right or wrong, and there’s no specific timeline.
I still am amazed that I was blessed enough to have 11 years of his believing. My instincts told me we should do it this year, before Christmas, not after. Your instincts will tell you when it’s time for you.
2. Absolutely have the greater spiritual conversation at the same time. One line of thinking could be, well, it’s not appropriate to have the God / Jesus conversation at the same time as Santa because it could minimize our faith and cause them to doubt even more, but I strongly believe and witnessed that whatever you believe should be discussed at the same time.
Because it’s an opportunity to confront Doubt before it begins and sink in without your even realizing it…
[Because children are not likely to bring these ideas up to us, especially as they get older,
so it’s an opportunity for you to lead them the way you believe in, to instill the values you want them to have, to make the conversation — and their place in this world — relevant and about something bigger than themselves.]
It’s an opportunity to showcase how magic doesn’t have to be “real” to be felt and experienced. And even more so, it’s an opportunity to show your children how much you love them, not with lots of gifts, i.e. “STUFF,” but with the whole experience and tradition.
3. Keep the conversation loop open. After we finished our conversation, I asked Ashton if he had any questions that he wanted to discuss and opened the door up for him, again, to come to me or his dad anytime he does have questions.
This was another way to reinforce our love and connection with him, and although we often believe it’s implied to our kids, they need to hear that the loop is always open, over and over again.
The Real Meaning of Christmas
This time of year can get exhausting. There’s often travel to plan, gifts to consider, buy or make, wrap, and deliver. There’s food prep, house cleaning, grocery store shopping, decorating, and honestly, it can all easily get out of control and as Charlie Brown so eloquently states, “commercialized.“
In the late Charles M. Shultz’s words in his masterpiece cartoon, A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), he states the real meaning of Christmas through his characters:
Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?
Linus Van Pelt: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.
[moves toward the center of the stage]
Linus Van Pelt: Lights, please.
[a spotlight shines on Linus]
Linus Van Pelt: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not:“
[Linus drops his security blanket]
Linus Van Pelt: “for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.‘”
Linus Van Pelt: [Linus picks up his blanket and walks back towards Charlie Brown] That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
For Us Moms…
Let us never forget the real meaning of Christmas — to show the world Christ’s love through our example. Let us never forget that it is a season of giving and sharing, and one of peace…
So the Santa character may go away over time with our children, as it did with my son this year, but hopefully a new Tradition begins: the reminder to share Christ’s love through our example, like his example to give that magic to his brother… that it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive, and that it is always a good and joyful thing to BELIEVE.