I was about 7, I think, when I figured out that what I’d always believed about Santa Claus wasn’t true. I had asked my parents for a thousand-dollar Christmas present. Naturally, they told me they couldn’t afford it. I said I’d just ask Santa, then. They told me Santa couldn’t afford it either. It didn’t take me long to put two and two together. The toys under my tree and the trinkets in my stocking were all purchased by my parents. The noises I heard on the roof were just normal nighttime noises. The blinking lights in the sky were just ordinary passenger planes. The fantastical model in my head did not exist.
What? The magic entity at the North Pole with the elves and the flying reindeer? Nah, I never believed that. I always knew it was impossible for one being to get to every house at once, and there was no way one sleigh could hold enough toys for every kid in town, let alone in the Christmas-celebrating world. And I could tell those mall Santas were never the same guy.
My theory about Santa was that, when you became a parent, you were inducted into a vast global conspiracy. Every Christmas you delivered your child’s “letter to Santa” to a regional headquarters. A highly-trained staff procured all items on the list at no cost to you (provided surveillance and reconnaissance showed your child to be Nice, of course). On Christmas Eve, every regional HQ sent out dozens of planes filled with toys. Planes small enough to safely land on the roof of a mid-sized ranch house. These planes were piloted by Christmas Ninjas dressed in red and white ninja uniforms. These Christmas Ninjas could sneak into any house, chimney or no, completely undetected. They dropped the toys off, ate the cookies, drank the milk, and disappeared into the night. Fear of what would happen if the Christmas Ninjas caught me kept me in bed whenever I heard movement and muffled voices coming from the living room on Christmas Eve. I never thought the Christmas Ninjas would hurt me, but they might do worse: leave with my presents!
Imagine my disappointment when I figured out that “Santa Claus” was just your parents buying you stuff.
However, amid my shock and disappointment, one thing I never felt was betrayal. Once I got over being upset about my fantasy not being real, I thought it was pretty cool that my parents had gone through all that trouble every Christmas just to play make-believe with me. I loved playing make-believe. I’d spend hours by myself playing with my imaginary friends who I knew perfectly well were products of my own mind. And now it turned out my parents had an imaginary friend, too! How cool was that?
So if/when I have kids, we are going to play Santa. We’ll read the stories, sing the songs, and watch the Christmas specials. They’ll hang stockings and put out milk and cookies; my co-parent and I will stock the stockings, eat the cookies, and drink the milk. But I’ll probably tell the kids from the beginning what’s going on: that their parents have an imaginary friend named Santa who visits on Christmas, a special day when everyone gets to play make-believe together.