Illustration by Ally Hodges
This column deals with the verifiable nature of a certain Mr. Kringle. Please don't leave it lying around if you have kids in the house. Over the summer, everything changed. He sat there and asked the question he'd asked before, but now, with his 10-almost-11-year-old body filling the rocking chair, the long legs that not so long ago dangled above the floor splayed down like tree trunks, it seemed the time had come. "It's me and Daddy. We're the ones who leave the presents," I said. And with that, just like that, it was over. The Santa years. We'd had a good run: 13 years, since my daughter had been born. I wish it had been longer. I wish it had never ended at all. He cried, of course, as my daughter had done when we had had this talk. As I understand it, some families never even come to this moment. They have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which allows the kids to just keep pretending to believe and mom and dad to still write "Love, Santa" on stockings that include shaving cream and Grand Theft Auto V. It's a mutually agreed-upon delusion, just for one night, and that sounds delightful to me. It didn't work that way for us. We got the kids who really want to know. So when he asked in the summer before fifth grade, it seemed like time for the truth. But the truth, in this case, is more complicated than whether, say, Batman is real. There is no evidence of Batman in the world we live in. There are no grappling hooks dangling unexplained from buildings, no bat signal lighting the night sky. Yet at Christmastime, there is overwhelming evidence of Santa. Presents show up under the tree, wrapped differently from all the others. Cookies are missing. Candy canes show up in odd places. Chewed-down carrot stubs litter the front lawn. Santa happens. And so the answer I had to give my kids was this: Yes, Santa is real. It's just not who you thought it was. It was me. And Daddy. And everyone at the mall. And your grandparents, aunts and uncles. And the weather folks on the news who talk about whether Christmas Eve will be clear for flying. And the U.S. government, which clears the airspace for Santa and gives him landing rights on rooftops. It's even the older kid on your bus who is jerky enough to step on your backpack but not so jerky as to tell you the truth, even when you wore a Santa pin on your coat. And now, it's you, too. I tell my kids that it's a lot of fun to get presents from Santa, but that the real fun starts once you get to be Santa. Even when they were younger but just beginning to have doubts, I would tell them the truth as I believed it to be: There will come a time when you no longer believe in Santa, but when you grow up and have kids, he comes back to you and you will believe again. What I failed to realize was that another lull was coming for me, when my own children stopped believing. We'll do everything the same this year — we will put out cookies for Santa, and carrots and sugar cubes for the reindeer. We will track Santa on the NORAD site. We can even do the picture with Santa at the mall. We still will go see the tree and gingerbread house at The Jefferson Hotel. We will bake cookies, go to the carol sing at church and listen to Christmas music way too much. We will still roll our eyes when we hear "The Red Shoes." It will all be the same, but very, very different. Look, things change. They have to. No one wants their 14-year-old asking her ninth-grade classmates what Santa is bringing them for Christmas. But thankfully, there is one thing that never changes, and that is Santa Claus himself. Santa can never get a disease and die. He can never be caught in a sex scandal or make a fool of himself twerking on YouTube. He will never blow his lid and get caught on tape hurling reindeer slurs at Rudolph. He can't be indicted, deported or disgraced. By his very nature, he will remain forever as he is today: unassailable, sacred and immortal. And I know he will be patiently waiting for me, for the day I become a grandmother — when I will believe again.