So I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m Santa. Yes, I know, you thought he was a jolly, white-haired and red-suited old man. I’ve been Santa for years. All those presents under the tree? Yep, that was me. I read the letters and the Christmas wish list before we mailed them to the North Pole. That corner nibbled off the gingerbread? Me too. Guilty as charged.
Strangely, my 11-year-old son is still reluctant to accept that I’m Santa. I broke the ‘Santa Claus doesn’t exist’ news to him a couple of years ago, but even now he secretly wants to believe in the Father Christmas myth. We’ve even had several heated arguments about it.
‘But I’ve sat on his lap and talked to him!’ he said.
‘The Santas in shopping centres are paid to do that.’
‘But what about the Christmas Eve when we went out and then when we came home the presents had magically appeared?’
‘I put them under the tree before we left the house,’ I admitted.
‘But you were with me the whole time!’
‘Julian, there is no Santa. I’ve been Santa your entire life. I can even show you the receipts. That Lego came from Target, it wasn’t made by elves at Santa’s workshop.’
‘No!’ he cried. ‘I don’t believe you!’
The following Christmas there was no present from Santa, but Julian was still skeptical about his mother being Jolly Old Saint Nick. For his rebuttal, he started to use the lyrics of Christmas carols as evidence. How could you see Mummy kissing Santa Claus if she was actually Santa Claus? There was no logic to that. I had to tell him even that song was really about how Santa doesn’t exist and Mummy was kissing Daddy. He looked heartbroken. It’s hard to accept that flying reindeer and a magic sleigh that delivers presents just aren’t real. It’s even harder to accept that you’ve been telling your inner most desires to an overweight man who’s paid to have kids sit on his knee all day through December.
Perhaps for this very reason, a friend of mine has chosen to not to have Santa at her house. Her daughter has just turned two, and they’ve decided that they don’t want to fool her into believing in something that isn’t true. ‘It’s like religion,’ she says. ‘I don’t believe in God so I’m not going to tell my child to believe in God too. Tricking your kids into believing in Santa is lying to them. I don’t want to do that for a few years and then disappoint her later. She’ll still get Christmas presents. But they won’t be delivered by Rudolph.’
As a child myself, I remember when I confronted my Dad about Santa in the car. I’d just found the My Little Pony playset I’d asked for in the cupboard a few days shy of Christmas and there’d been whispers at school that Santa Claus was a fake. My Dad looked a little sad that I’d found the presents, but he told me it was about how beautiful it was see your kids believe in something mysterious and magical; a glimpse of Santa’s foot in the fireplace, the tail of the Easter Bunny jumping out of the yard after hiding all the eggs, the shiny coin left under a pillow by the Tooth Fairy. It did sting to face the cold, magic-free reality of the world. I kept up the rouse for my younger brothers and sisters, but it wasn’t until I’d become a parent that I understood the beauty of magic that my Dad had described.
Christmas 2003 was the first year Julian really understood about Santa. I’d gone to some elaborate lengths to make it look like Father Christmas had been in the lounge room - some footprints, some biscuit crumbs, a fake reindeer poo made of mud outside in the garden. The look on my son’s face when he saw the wrapped presents that hadn’t been there the night before is one of my favourite memories. His eyes lit up with joy. Some of my dearest childhood memories are Christmas mornings too, when my own parents had gone to elaborate lengths to make me believe in something magical. The traditions passed down through families and generations are significant too: the reindeer poo made out of mud trick was something that my grandfather used to make for my mum.
So perhaps we are lying to our kids when we trick them into believing the magic of Christmas and Santa Claus. But I think it’s a magnificent lie that’s created some of my fondest memories - as a child and as a parent. Maybe one day if my son has kids, he’ll understand why I was happy to be Santa. And even get some mud and sculpt some reindeer poo himself.