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December 20, 2008

The Santa secret

Santasack2_white_200 "Look, there goes Santa Claus," I said to The Boy (my 9-year-old stepson) one recent Saturday afternoon. We were at the front of a store, waiting for my husband to finish a purchase, when we saw the Man in Red walking down the mall with a few of his assistants.

"Yeah," The Boy said. "He's not the real one, though." I started to respond with a comment about Santa's "helpers" when he continued, "The real Santa came to my cousins' house the last time I was there on Christmas Eve."

I leaned in a little closer. "And you know what? I heard that he might be going there this year, too, and so will we."

"YES!" The Boy crowed. "Oh, I hope he brings me that Pokemon Ranger game I want!"

My stepkids alternate which parent they spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with every year; this year, they'll be with us for the Eve, as they were two years ago. We spend Christmas Eve at my sister's house with my side of the family - and yes, Santa does come to visit. He usually arrives some time after dinner, entering the house through the back door while we're opening gifts in the living room, and announcing his appearance with jingling bells. We all move to the family room to greet him. He hands a gift to each of the young kids, has a few pictures taken, and then heads back out on his rounds.

At nine years old, his dad and I weren't sure whether The Boy was still a "believer" or not until we had this conversation, but apparently he is. My husband was very glad to know that. As for me, living with a "believer" is still a little strange to me, since my own son was raised without Santa. We observed Christmas; we decorated a tree (for several years it was a live one, and once we even went to a tree farm to cut our own), we exchanged gifts, we made special meals, and we even went to church more often than not, although we weren't strictly religious in our practices. Santa just never entered into our family celebration.

This didn't come from family tradition on either side, officially, although one effect of the assorted dysfunctionalities of my ex-husband's family was his strict insistence on honesty, and that was the reason he didn't want to get started on Santa. His train of thought was that eventually, our son would come to learn we hadn't be truthful with him about that, and then he might start to doubt a lot of other things we'd told him, and he needed to be able to trust us. Granted, there was some what-if extrapolation going on there, but this particular point didn't seem like a big enough issue to disagree about, so I didn't; therefore, Santa never brought our son a single gift.

Christmas has become an increasingly secular holiday during our kids' lifetimes - one of several celebrated in the winter "holiday season" - and leaving Santa out of the equation is tougher than you'd think. As it happens, we couldn't entirely; we explained to our son that many people believe Santa delivers gifts to every child in the world on Christmas Eve, and while we accepted him as a symbol of love and generosity, we just didn't buy into the gift-delivery part. However, we did respect other people's different traditions, and Son was under strict instructions NOT to tell any of his young friends the "Santa secret." While he was still in the age range where most people would expect him to be a "believer," we also directed him not to be too forthcoming with adults either; he should just be polite when they asked what he wanted, or got, from Santa, and mention a couple of the things he had on the Christmas wish list he'd given to us. The irony, of course, is that in wanting to be "honest" with our son about Santa, we had to encourage him to be dishonest with other people.

Son is 24 now, and doesn't seem to have suffered any ill effects from growing up Santa-less - and he's still keeping the secret from his younger cousins and stepbrother. Tall Girl, my 14-year-old stepdaughter, is a co-conspirator now, having moved uneventfully out of the "belief" stage herself but having a younger brother who's still there. When the time comes for The Boy to leave too - and it will - we'll be honest with him in answering any questions he has. But until he's ready to figure out the Santa secret for himself, I don't see anything wrong with keeping it our secret.

An original Los Angeles Moms Blog post

Florinda Pendley Vasquez has learned that it's hard to keep many secrets when one has a blog - hers is The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness.


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