It was late-September of 2008 when we brought my son home from China, just two months before December and our sparkly, over-the-top, American-style Christmas season. My little boy had no idea what Christmas was. He had no idea who Santa was. Hell, he had no idea what protein was.
Time, as it does, marched on and my son acclimated to Christmas quickly. The tree, the lights, the presents, the added traffic, the fact that I will not step foot in a Costco or Target during the month of December. I added in some religious overtones, some lessons about giving, and gave myself a pat on the back when he wrapped up Lara bars in snowflake paper with tags that said, “Happy Birthday, Jeezus” for the regulars who loiter outside our CVS.
At some point, I really don’t remember when, the whole Santa sh’bang was introduced and took hold. I vaguely remember thinking that Santa might be an issue for my very, very literal child with a healthy dose of trust issues, but I didn’t intervene. Christmas magic, childhood rites of passage, maybe too much spiked eggnog, I don’t know, but it all combined with good intentions, a shoulder shrug and a hey, how bad can this be. It’s a lie, for sure, and it’s a lie about a magic man who lures kids with candy to come sit on his lap before he breaks and enters into their homes, but still. It’s Santa and toy-making elves, not Jeffrey Daumer with a mistletoed ice pick.
And it’s been fun, it has. For the past few years, we’ve written letters, watched the movies, and tracked the jolly old man around the world on NORAD. I figured one more year and I would make the development of a solid Santa exit plan my first New Year’s resolution.
As part of our Christmas season this year, we bought gifts for foster children. My son and I had two kids to buy for, a boy and a girl, and we bought trains and fairy wings and a tea set and those magnetic square things that stick together to create vehicles. I love those magnetic square things.
When we were wrapping up the presents at home, my son asked, “Mom, why are we doing this?”
“Because these kiddos can’t live with their families right now, buddy. We’re making sure they have presents to open on Christmas.”
“But why are WE doing this? Why doesn’t Santa have presents for kids with no families?”
It looks like my Santa exit plan was bumped up to right this second.
As I was crafting my opener in my head, my son asked, “Did Santa come to my orphanage? I don’t think he did. Why doesn’t Santa visit kids with no families?”
Before I could distract him with a “heyyyyyy kiddo, want a candy cane?,” my son held up the half-wrapped tea set and asked, “Why does Santa not have a present for this little girl?”
My son was waiting for my answer, but I could see what he already believed:
Santa is a big jerk.
Had I not been in a Christmas semi-panic, I would have been proud of my son’s quick logic skills as he moved from the orphanages and foster kids that Santa flew right over to, “Are there any Chinese elves? How about black elves? Is everyone at the North Pole white?”
Oh good, now, Santa is a big, racist jerk.
Maybe he’ll get their on his own, I thought.
“Think about Santa, buddy. Really think about him. Flying wild animals pulling a sleigh that violates all principles of aviation…”
He interrupted me. “Mom, Santa is real. I saw him at Bass Pro Shop.”
Then, the coup de gras: “And why is Santa allowed to eat so many cookies?”
So Santa is a big, racist jerk with a sugar problem and an affinity for taxidermy.
I bought myself some more time with a “Hey! Isn’t it time for the iPad?” I decided that the Santa exit plan, which can hopefully wait until after Christmas Day, needs to be the truth.
It probably won’t be easy and a little Christmas magic might fizzle out, but if I do this right, and I really, really hope I do, my son will believe that he can be the magic, that he already is the magic. He can – he should, he must – bring his magic to the orphanages, to the foster kids, to everyone who needs it. We are black and white and Chinese, and we can be magical all year round. (And, sure, while we’re at it, I suppose we can cut back on the sugar.)
I have to tell my son that there is no Santa Claus, that there is no jolly, flying man who offers gifts, spreads cheer and brings people together. That is our job. There is only us. Thank goodness we are all so very, very full of magic.
Merry Christmas, my friends.
Rebecca Masterson is a writer, speaker, and an advocate for children. For more from Rebecca, follow her on Instagram.