This year was my first grown-up Christmas. I am eight years old and I learned this year that Santa is a complete fake. I really should have known. I mean, obviously he couldn’t get to everyone’s house in one night. I wasn’t even all that surprised when I found out for sure from my friend Natalie. But just to check I asked my mom, and she made a funny look on her face and said, “Well, Santa isn’t really a real person, but it’s just a fun story like the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy.” I already knew they were make-believe, so what she said made sense.
Then she gave me a serious warning, “Do not tell your sister. She is still little and I don’t want you to ruin Christmas for her.” Can you believe that!? She actually thought I would try to crush the childish dreams of my little baby sister! I’m mature enough to keep the secret knowledge to myself, thank you very much.
After quickly destroying the letter of resignation from Santa placed neatly on my sister’s pillow, I went back to my regular life. I felt pretty grown up knowing that I didn’t believe all that silly stuff anymore. I knew that this year, Christmas would not be the same. It would be dignified. No more kids table for me! And after it was all over, perhaps I would be allowed to watch the New Year’s ball drop, since I wasn’t a mere child anymore.
Three days after Thanksgiving, as I was contemplating the cruel twist of fate (after all, I still LOOK like a child) that landed me at the kids table again, I had my first test regarding my Christmas secret. My sister started writing her wish list for Santa.
“Why aren’t you gonna write one with me?” she asked, pouting.
“Would you write a letter to someone if you knew their entire life was a lie and they probably wouldn’t even read it?” I answered delicately. My mother shot me a look.
“I get what I ask for every year!” she demanded. “And besides, it’s fun.”
I glanced at my mother, who was staring at me with knowing eyes. I knew I had to handle the situation like an adult. I patted my sister’s head and replied, “Well you can write a nice little letter to him then. I used to do the same thing when I was a kid.”
“You’re still a kid,” she called after me in a confused tone as I flounced to my bedroom. Some children are just too dull to understand, I thought.
A week later, my mother pulled me aside as we were getting ready to go Christmas shopping. “We are going to see Santa at the mall today, and I’d like for you to play along.”
Well, even though the mall Santa has a very real beard and a very real fat stomach (I know because I studied them very carefully) and he is much more jolly and nice than other adults (I know because he didn’t punish me when I yanked his beard and poked his stomach), I am smart enough to know that he is just pretending to be Santa.
“Sure mom,” I said conspiratorially.
We arrived at the mall, and right away my sister started begging to see Santa. I bet she noticed that I wasn’t that excited, but I tried to fake it for my mom’s sake.
“Oh, look Holly,” I pointed at the Santa from the back of the line, “It’s a different man from last year. I guess the old Santa retired!”
“Claire!” my mother said sternly.
I ignored her. She seemed so flustered. I wasn’t trying to give anything away; I just thought Holly would probably notice the new Santa anyway. I just wanted to give a believable excuse.
“Santa doesn’t retire, he lives forever,” Holly informed me.
“Hm. I guess he got plastic surgery then,” I recovered quickly. Mom made a face. Sometimes she is really hard to read.
Anyway, when we got to the front of the line, my sister ran and jumped on Santa’s lap, and immediately started spouting off all the things she wanted for Christmas. I put my hands in my pockets and leaned on the little gate. I glanced at one of the other moms with a knowing smile. Look at these little kids, my smile said, aren’t they cute?
Suddenly the gate opened and one of the elves guided me forward, “C’mon, it’s your turn to talk to Santa!” she said a little too cheerfully. What was she doing?! Couldn’t she tell I was too old for this nonsense? The last thing I was going to do was sit on that guy’s lap!
“Uh, no thanks,” I chuckled lightheartedly. “I’m just here with my baby sister.” I grabbed Holly’s hand and rushed her to the exit gate.
“What’s your problem?” she asked. “You’re acting weird.”
I tried to regain my composure. I didn’t want any other parents mistaking my act in front of Holly as an admission of belief in Santa.
Throughout the entire Christmas holiday, I concealed my knowledge with all the secrecy I could muster. I even went as far as casually striking up a few Christmas carols in the car, for Holly’s sake.
“Santa Claus ain’t coming to town,” I sang joyfully.
“Claire!” shouted both of my parents in unison.
“is coming, is coming,” I corrected myself. “Sorry.”
But despite my delicate efforts to protect my younger sister’s naïve mind, she started showing signs of doubt herself. On Christmas Eve, she almost forgot to set out the cookies and milk for Santa. Then, she had a tantrum about going to bed a little early. I tried to persuade her.
“Holly,” I sang out. “If you don’t go to bed early, then SANTA won’t come!” I gave her my sweetest big sister smile and nudged her towards the stairs.
“You too,” said my father. I sighed. I guess I really was going to have to go through with this act, all the way down to bedtime.
When we got upstairs and into bed, I thought I’d give it one more shot, just to keep the Christmas spirit alive for one more year. “Don’t try to listen for the reindeer hooves, ok?” I whispered through the dark. “They’re pretty quiet.”
The room was silent. “Claire?” she whispered.
“You know Santa is just make-believe, like the Easter bunny, right?”
What did she just say?
She continued, “It’s just for fun, you know.”
I was stunned. Did she know all along? How many years had she known?!
“Uh, of course Holly,” I answered smoothly. “You didn’t actually think he was real, did you?”
“No, it’s just fun to pretend,” she answered.
“Yeah, it’s really fun, I know,” I replied. “Goodnight… and, uh, Merry Christmas.”
I heard her turn over in her bed and sigh contentedly.
So much for my first grown-up Christmas! But I was actually kind of relieved. Maybe tomorrow morning wouldn’t be so dignified after all. Maybe for just a few more years we could all pretend and just have fun. After all, I wouldn’t want to grow up too fast. My parents must have the most boring Christmas ever!