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Saving Santa from Reality and the Recession

About a week before Christmas, I pulled out a book about Santa to read to my seven-year-old son. In years past, I didn’t do enough of the fun stuff during the holidays like drinking hot chocolate by the fire and listening to Christmas carols. It was too easy to get caught up in the cleaning, shopping and cooking so I was determined this year to do more of the simple, meaningful things I had heard so much about. Tonight, it would be reading a Christmas book.

I wasn’t familiar with the book I chose because it was a gift, so I innocently dove right in not knowing where this story of a Santa who’s in a rush on Christmas Eve would lead. In this mediocre holiday tale, Santa meets with different obstacles that slow down his trip to give out toys to all the boys and girls around the world. And that got my son thinking.

“So, Mom,” Jonathan interrupted me, “Santa flies all around the whole world in just one night?” I shook my head yes. “Now, is that real or is Santa just a theory?” he asked. I was at once proud and terrified. Proud that he was figuring out the impossibility of the St. Nick myth (based on his math and geography skills, I hoped) and terrified that his belief in Santa would be shattered. I didn’t want the fun to end for him but maybe it was time. Unless, I could add more made-up stuff that would set his mind at ease. And so, in the wink of an eye, I came up with an ingenious explanation.

“Santa has magic; that’s how he gets around the world in just one night,” I told him nonchalantly. It wasn’t genius, it wasn’t even clever, but I think my feigned confidence and getting right back to the story saved Santa for at least this year. I remember during my childhood that I wanted to believe in Santa more than I actually believed and maybe my son wanted that too.

I don’t feel great about lying to my children but I’m trying to convince myself that it’s harmless fun to believe in such a wonderful person, at least for a little while. But my patience with the jolly old elf who can bring lots of toys at no cost to mom and dad was put to the test by that very child who had doubted. I had been laid off of my day job in March and my husband and I knew we were going to tighten up on our Christmas spending.

As the big day drew closer, Jonathan started honing in on the things he definitely wanted under the tree. The list was long, expensive, and unrealistic. It included a Nintendo Wii (he was getting this one, courtesy of his grandparents), an iPod, a Nintendo DSi (the one that’s also a camera, mom), and a Pocket Rocket (never). I simply explained that those gifts were all very expensive and he could get one of them. “But Mom, Santa doesn’t need money, he will bring me what I want.”

That led to more improvising. “Yes, Santa brings you toys but not everything you want. What if he brought everything every child wanted? He would never be able to carry that many toys.”

I felt ridiculous as the words came out of my mouth. I wanted to tell him that there was no way we could afford all those gifts and even if we could, it was just too much to ask for in one calendar year. But I couldn’t, could I? I hoped my trumped-up explanation was enough and I longed for the day when I could tell Jonathan the truth about money and who really puts those presents under the tree.

I consoled myself with the idea that there will be time enough for lessons on personal finance and where money comes from. I don’t know if he’ll put two and two together before next Christmas and realize that no one could possibly travel around the world in one night or afford to hand out trillions of toys. But this year, it was all about keeping the magic alive, at all costs.

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