My Turn Online: Of Course There's a Santa

The end, when it comes, will come quietly. I imagine there will be no tears, no tantrums, no accusations of deception. There will be no need for long-winded explanations on my part. It will just suddenly...change. I'll wake up soon to a different world than the one I now inhabit.

One in which my oldest child, who is almost 7, no longer believes in Santa Claus.

Last year, Christmas was spectacular, a magical season of belief, of joy, of faith. Shay was in kindergarten then, just beginning to write, and he spent hours composing lists for Santa, absorbed in the toy catalogs that arrived in the mail daily. He hung and then re-hung the ornaments on the tree, wanting it to look just so. He made gifts in school: a bookmark for his dad and a pinched clay pot for me. He helped bake cookies to leave by the fireplace. He artfully arranged the crèche set, strategically adding a few of his Matchbox cars so the wise men would have a quick ride home.

After Mass on Christmas Eve, we went out into the cold together, exhaling clouds of frost as we scattered homemade reindeer chow on the snow in front of our house: I explained that this secret blend of seeds, crushed cereal and glitter would light the landing area for the reindeer and give them their own special snack to munch while they waited for Santa to unpack our gifts. At last he went to bed, and my husband and I waited—and waited, and waited—for him to finally fall asleep so we could set the stage and head off to bed ourselves.

Presents were piled under the tree on Christmas morning, and Shay tore into each package quicker than the last. At his side was his 2 1/2-year-old brother, Aidan, awestruck but befuddled. He didn't quite understand who Santa was, couldn't comprehend that these gifts were his to keep. Shay coached him along: "Santa brought this for you! And this, too!" My husband and I sat with grandparents, aunts and uncles, all of us knee-deep in wrapping paper, drinking coffee and installing batteries all morning long, as we watched the kids laugh and fight and jump from one toy to the next.

It was perfect.

Nine months passed. By now those once-shiny toys were battered and broken, missing parts or simply buried under the rubble of Shay's room. I packed him a lunch and walked him to the bus stop, where I waved as he pulled away in the school bus, off to start first grade. We settled into a new routine: school, snack, homework, play, dinner, book, bed. A month flew by. One sunny fall day, he was eating his after-school snack when he glanced at me sideways, gauging my response as he casually said, "Tom told me there's no such thing as Santa Claus."

"What?" I asked, astonished. "No Santa? Didn't Tom get any presents last year?"

"Well, yes, but…"

"How does he imagine they got there?"

"I know, mom, that's what I told him," he said, relieved. "There has to be a Santa." With that, he trotted off to play, relieved of his terrible burden.

Now that burden belongs to me. No Santa? What would the world be like with no Santa? I love the idea of that jolly old man, toiling all year long so he can give gifts to strangers, no strings attached. As we plan for Christmas this year, we talk about what we hope Santa will bring, and wonder whether we should get a gift for Santa this year. Now it's my turn to watch Shay surreptitiously as we talk, to see if he's still a believer. We only have a few short weeks to go. I think we're going to make it. But this is it. By next year, surely, the game will be up. He'll have figured it all out. That sparkly reindeer chow we make together? It'll be just so much cheap tinsel next year.

Still—waiting in the wings there's Aidan, now 3, who will be in on the magic this year. He finally understands; he's ready to believe in someone he can't see. I hope, when the time comes, Shay will help us to keep the magic alive, for Aidan's sake. I hope he won't give away the secret in some haughty moment, trying to prove that he's smarter than his baby brother. For now, I revel in the sight of the two boys, heads pressed close, debating about what to put

on their wish lists this year.

Last year, after much tortured thought, Shay decided to ask Santa for a Game Boy and a baby sister. He didn't get the Game Boy. But do you know what? He got the sister, this past summer. She bops in her baby seat, cooing and smiling at her brothers, oblivious to the excitement that will descend upon our house this December.

Too soon, I'll miss the Santa magic as seen through my eldest's eyes. Still, I find comfort in the thought that I'll have many more years before I have to stop believing myself.

My Turn Online: Of Course There's a Santa | News