The day Miss J matter-of-factly told me there was no Santa Clause, I held my breath fir a moment.
And then I exhaled a big sigh of relief.
In my circle of moms, most have come to dread this day, knowing their child is stepping further from childhood. Perhaps losing the Christmas magic. While part of me felt like I was turning my back on a fun tradition, this announcement from Miss J left me feeling like I'd been let off a very large hook.
I should mention that when Miss J declared Santa a fake, she was just three years old.
It was getting close to Christmas and Miss J and I were out running errands together. One of our stops was to the grocery store to buy ingredients to make cookies. We parked the car and as we made our way to the store, Miss J spied a Marine's "Toys For Tots" collection. She eyed the Marine in full uniform and the large box of toys. She turned to me and said,
"Oh, so there is no Santa?"
I was unprepared to hear that and sputtered and stammered and only managed to get out a surprised, "Huh?"
She repeated herself in the same matter-of-fact tone.
I looked at my girl. "Why would you say that?" I asked her.
She simply stated, "Well, if there was a Santa, there wouldn't be that, " a mittened hand pointing at the toy collection. She shrugged her tiny shoulders and proceeded into the store.
I said nothing but my mind was racing. Do I confirm this? Deny it? What do I do? I was not prepared for this! I decided not to do anything at that moment. I decided that if she wanted to pursue the conversation, she would.
Once we were in the car, she asked me for the truth. I told her. I wondered if perhaps she might cry. I kept glancing in the rear view mirror to see if disappointment had crept upon her face. The last emotion I was expecting, the one she nearly exploded with, was anger.
"You lied to me, Mommy?" She glared at me. "Why would you do that? That isn't Christmas."
I explained it to her, as best I could. I apologized for making her feel tricked and foolish. We talked about Christmas and Hanukkah and tradition and folklore and magic and joy. It was one of the most meaningful conversations I've had with her. One I won't soon forget.
Hence my sigh of relief.
Before I was a mother I'd had always wondered how I would handle Santa and the Easter Bunny with my children. Once I had Miss J, I hated lying to her. I struggle some with religion, but I have always been involved in my church and the thought of taking a religious holiday and putting such a commercial spin on it really bothered me.
Honestly, when Christmas would roll around I would wish I were Jewish. No Hanukkah folk heroes. No over the top antics. No telling my child that they would receive gifts only if they were good. No explaining why the children residing in the more desirable zip codes were bestowed more gifts while other children received dollar store junk. No trying to rationalize why some children would receive visits from Santa while those of other religions did not. (I grew up in a largely Jewish neighborhood and used to wonder, "Does Santa not like Jewish kids?" I'm happy to report that my Jewish friends survived, unscathed, without the presence of a Santa figure in their youth. None that I know of had to work that out in therapy.)
Now, after the confrontation from my three year old, I was let off the hook. No more lying. No more pretending. No more games.
I did receive some backlash from other parents when they discovered my Miss J was a non-believer. I was accused of forcing her to grow up too fast. I was told I was robbing her of Christmas Spirit. Adults would look at her and say, "But I am a grown up and I still believe in Santa." Comments like these annoyed Miss J to no end. Imagine how much easier it would be when people asked if my kids believed in Santa to simply say, "Oh, we're Jewish. We don't do Santa."
And now that Miss J is ten do I feel like somehow the magic was lost? Would I go back and change it if I could?
Not for a single second.
Is see the wonder on her face when she decorates the Christmas tree and when we make our Swedish rice pudding. She is magic when she carefully selects a gift for each family member and painstakingly wraps it. She is light when I hear her angelic voice singing the hymns at the candlelight Christmas Eve service.
And when the entire family is gathered in our little home at Christmas, with a fire roaring and a delicious meal on the table, she is joy. This is what makes my girl the happiest.