I’ll never forget it. I was in fourth grade, December, cheerleading practice after school in a room full of bubbly girls. One minute I jumped with excitement, innocence. The world was a good place. The next minute, Anna walked up to me, got in my face, and stared hard at me with her enormous eyes. I wondered what I had done to tick her off.
“Did you hear?” she asked.
“What?” I cowered.
“Santa isn’t real,” she said. With those three words, my childhood was crushed. I never doubted her. She was a fifth grader after all. I was stinkin’ mad. “Why did you tell me that?” I growled back. The magic, the possibility, the awe—she yanked it away like my favorite baby doll and ripped its head off. And I’ve always kind of hated her for that.
I never mentioned to my parents what Anna said. I played the charade, spent several Christmases pretending I believed because I didn’t know whether I would still get presents, but Christmas morning just wasn’t as fun anymore. (Turns out, you do still get presents.)
And it turns out the magic didn’t really go away either. It just took me a long time to find it again. I never got it as a kid, that whole thing about giving is better than receiving. I’ve found in my older age that if I can do a little something extra every year for at least one person, that’s what the season is about. It’s about giving to someone in need, giving to someone you love, giving to someone you don’t know, making or doing something a little extra special for even one person. In a world where there’s never enough time to stop, this is the time of year when I try to go out of my way anyway.
That’s what I try to teach my kids, but it’s hard when I’m also trying to get them to pare down their Christmas lists. I don’t know if they get that, but one day they will. And I don’t mind them wanting some Christmas magic too. I know how important it was to me as a child, daring to dream of bigger things.
So when my fourth-grade son asked me yesterday, “Is Santa real? I think it’s you. Please tell me,” it was hard for me. I thought about Anna and how I didn’t want to be that person for him. But I told him the truth because one thing I’ve learned after all these years: Santa exists, in all of us.