Over dinner the other night, I had a conversation with some friends about the age we were when we stopped believing in Santa Clause. The average age for non-believers was around 6-7 years. I felt a little sheepish to admit that I continued to believe in the jolly fat man for some years after this.
I stopped believing in Santa Clause when I was 12 years old. The only reason that I stopped believing is that my mother sat me down and told me point-blank that there was no Santa. She agonized over her decision to do this, because she loves Christmas and always encouraged my brother and I to expand our minds and believe in magical things. In the end though, she decided it was the right thing to do, because she couldn’t live with the thought of me going to high school still believing in Santa.
Santa was a big part of our Christmases when I was a child, and I was a firm believer. I understood that the Santa Clause at the department store wasn’t the real Santa, but just a helper. Every Christmas morning, my brother and I would head down to the loungeroom to witness the aftermath of Santa’s visit. There were always snowy bootprints on the slate floor (courtesy of a little talcum powder). The fireplace would be speckled with soot and crumbs from the cookies we had left out. An empty glass would sit atop the coffee table, having been drained some hours earlier. An inspection of the front yard would yeild an empty bucket (which we had filled with water for the reindeer the night before) and a chewed carrot stub. Best of all were the presents left behind, with tags lettered in calligraphy. Santa’s presence was so real to us, I had no reason not to believe.
At school one day, when I was about six, a girl in my class cruelly informed me that Santa wasn’t real, and that all the presents he left were actually purchased by your parents. I went home in tears that day, upset and confused. The idea that Santa might not be real had honestly never crossed my mind at that point. When my mother saw me crying, and I explained what had happened, she asked me what I thought about what my classmate had told me. I said that I felt sorry for her, because she didn’t believe in Santa, so her mum and dad had to buy those presents for her so that she wouldn’t miss out. My mother left it at that. Although I still believed, my faith in Santa had wavered somewhat.
A few years later, I decided to conduct an experiment to see whether Santa was real. While playing hide and seek with my cousins one day, I found a toy race-car set under my parent’s bed. It was a few weeks from Christmas, and I figured that the race track must have been a gift for my brother. I decided to wait and see whether the gift appeared under our tree on Christmas morning, and whether it was addressed from my parents or from Santa. On Christmas morning, the tag on the race-car track read “To Michael, from Mum and Dad”. I was very relieved.
Waiting for Santa and preparing for his visits were always a big part of our childhood. We always made a list and sent it to the North Pole. One year, I even made a collage using the pages of the toy catelogues to show Santa exactly which toys I wanted. Several days before Christmas, my mother would help us to bake cookie for Santa. There was usually some debate over what snack to leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve. I remember my father suggesting one time that we should leave a beer out for Santa, but my mother protested, saying that Santa had a big day ahead of him tomorrow, so it wouldn’t be a good idea to leave him alcohol.
When my mother told me the truth about Santa, I was sad, but not surprised. If I’m honest, I hadn’t truly believed in Santa for at least two years. However, I had really hoped that he was real, and I think I held onto the idea of Santa as a way of clinging to my fast-evaporating childhood. Once I knew for certain that Santa didn’t exist, I could no longer indulge myself in that magical fantasy once a year, and it was the loss of that magic that made me the saddest of all.
Truth be told, as an adult, Christmas is just as wonderful as it was when I was a kid, but for different reasons. I’m now old enough to buy my own presents for my family and friends, and I get to experience the joy of watching them unwrap their gifts. I can throw my own Christmas parties and spend loads of time with my family. As an adult, I think I appreciate the true meaning of Christmas more, and I see it more as a celebration of the birth of Christ than just a day when I get lots of presents. I think I am also more grateful as an adult to get a whole day to spend with my family and loved ones, enjoying eachothers company.
Even though it will lead to some level of disappointment down the track, I know that I will tell my kids about Santa, and let them believe it for as long as they want to. I will happily play along and enjoy it for as long as they believe.
How old were you when you stopped believing in Santa? Why did you stop believing? Do you think it’s a good idea to let your kids believe in Santa? I’d love to hear from you!