One night at bedtime, my very literal and incredulous (then) five-year-old, popped the question:
“Santa’s not real, right?”
We’d been in a pattern for a few months of him fact-checking me:
“Are superheroes real?”
“No. But there are real everyday heroes like daddy, who was a Marine, and police officers and firefighters.”
“Dogs can’t really talk, right, mom?”
“No. But it’s fun to pretend.”
“Is Jesus real?”
“Yes. You just can’t see him but He sees us and hears us and loves us.”
“Are pirates real?”
“Yes, but not how they’re depicted on T.V. They were a lot more brutal.”
“Are angels real?”
“Yes, and they’re all around us, but they’re invisible to humans unless they’re on special assignment.”
“Do wolves live in the woods or can they get in our house?”
“They live in the woods and cannot get into our house.”
“Are there really mad guys?”
“Yes, that’s why we don’t talk to strangers.”
He was sorting out the world. He loves Captain America but needs to know if the guy is really walking around New York City today. We tell him God and angels are real but you can’t see them. It gets confusing.
When he was talking about his beloved “brown bird” stuffed animal and stuffed snake, I asked “who got you brown bird?”
“And who got you snake?”
To my surprise, he said “Santa.”
Stunned, and struggling a little with my pride, I corrected, “No, hunny, mommy got you snake” (Snake was the result of a great debate in the toy store between my husband and me. I insisted our son would love him but Lee was not sure. The look on that boy’s face Christmas morning sealed the deal that I had won that one ;))
My husband and I both grew up with the mystical magic of Santa and although we have lots of fun memories, let’s face it; when it comes to Santa, there comes a day when a parent has to tell a child “Yeah, about the last ten years…just kidding.” And that didn’t sit well with me for a couple of reasons.
Before you think I’m a total Scrooge (or at very least a stick in the mud), hear me out.
First, we are dealing with autism which means we are dealing with very literal thinkers. We have to consistently teach them that there are shades of grey in this world and everything is not black and white, but some things are. Like God. Like the possibility of wolves breaking into our house. There are things that are true and things that are not. And as much as retailers want us to believe it, Santa is not real.
That being said, Veggie Tales does a perfectly graceful job at explaining what is true in the movie, “Saint Nicholas.“. And for the record, yes, I recognize the irony of me referencing singing vegetables to make my point about Santa.
Fact: Nicholas was a really real man who gave presents in secret in honor of God’s gift of his son, Jesus. So, in essence, there really was a Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas.
Fiction: A fat man in a red suit will break into our house in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve to deliver toys.
The reason I was shocked at his answer is because we’ve always kinda dodged the Santa thing. In five years, the question had never been flat out asked and we never attempted to make Santa real. I suppose they’ve always believed in Santa to some extent from exposure to traditional American pictures and carols and shopping but we’ve never encouraged it.
We’ve never done cookies and milk, never threatened that Santa “knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake” (p.s. how creepy is that and isn’t it, um, God who is omnipresent and the whole good/bad thing sounds a bit like it’s encouraging legalism…but I digress). We never asked if they heard reindeer hooves on the roof and only once did we make the mistake of waiting in a line of screaming children for a $14 photo with a man in stuffing and fake beard.
So how did I answer his question?
After I less than humbly reminded my sweet little boy that mommy did a great deal of convincing to get him the snake, he laughed and said “Oh yeah. Santa’s not real, right?”
In a moment where I felt like I might be stealing away a little bit of his innocence, I told him the truth.
“No, baby, Santa’s not real.”
I quickly followed by reminding him about St. Nicholas who is real and how it’s fun to talk about Christmasy things like Santa but in the end, we don’t need Santa to be real.
Because Christmas is really about giving gifts because of the greatest gift ever given…
the gift from a Father to his children.
The gift of His only Son to light up the world.