I'm all grown-up. But I still remember when I learned that Santa wasn't real. I suppose I knew it already by the time I asked my mother to confirm the awful truth, but I was nonetheless disappointed when she did. In retrospect, I think she handled it well. She explained that we don't believe in the same things when we grow up that we did when we were children. Then she baited the hook, "And since you're thinking like a grownup, you get to celebrate with the grownups." I was sure this couldn't be as good as the fat guy with flying reindeer, but what choice did I have?
I was astonished to learn that for years—without my knowledge—adults had been having a pretty good time being Santa. They stayed up late, sang songs, wrapped gifts for my little sister, ate the cookies she'd left, and opened their presents at midnight. I was thrilled to be trusted with the secret. By the time my little sister got up to open her presents in the morning, I was older, wiser, and smug in my expanded knowledge of the secret life of grown-ups.
These days, I go to extremes to perpetuate the Santa myth for my children. I start warning them in November to watch their manners or Santa's spies will notice. (I've given Santa the technical prowess of a covert government agency to explain this invasion of privacy.) Sure, I occasionally wonder if this deception is a good idea. But it wasn't until my 13-year-old niece told me how disappointed and bitter she felt that Santa was, as she described it "all a big lie," that I wondered if I was setting my kids up for disappointment.
Should I keep an eye to the future when it came to positioning this myth in the mind of my children? Why was I going to so much trouble to lie to two small beings I'm trying to teach not to lie? And, for that matter, what exactly was I trying to teach them by elaborating on a story that has come to convey a greedy materialism that I don't believe in?
There is no doubt in my mind that Santa is both powerful and inescapable. But, in the words of another great cultural icon of our times (Spider-Man), "With great power comes great responsibility." Should I be harnessing Santa's power more carefully? The day is nearly upon us again, so I decided to figure this out.