My daughter Jennifer was taking her older son Jack, 10, to school recently and, as he got out of the car, he asked a question that worries many parents at this time of year. His question -- "Is Santa real?"
Jen didn't have a simple answer, so she said it was complicated and she'd tell him when he got home from school. She thought about it and wrote down her thoughts in a beautiful letter that I'm sharing below, with Jen's permission.
An interesting side note... Jen is Jewish and her husband Jon is Christian. The boys, Jack and his brother Gabriel, 6, are being raised with traditions from both faiths. Not necessarily the religious dogma, but traditions like lighting the menorah on Chanukah, having matzoh for Passover and, of course, at this time of year decorating the Christmas tree and waiting for Santa.
I am so proud of my daughter for expressing her thoughts so beautifully and helping keep alive a beautiful tradition that makes this time of year magical for so many people -- especially children. Wouldn't it be nice if in this way we could all retain our inner child?
Here's Jen's note to my grandson Jack...
You asked a really good question earlier and I didn’t have time to answer it then. It is a question I knew was coming sooner than later, and I had a feeling it might come around this Christmas. It is a question that parents all over the word have to face at some time, and it is bittersweet. So I came home and gave it some serious thought and here is my answer to your question, “Is Santa real?”
Yes and no. Your image of Santa, as a big, fat, jolly man in a red suit and a beard, flying all over the world in s sleigh, is not real. You are a smart kid and you probably have questioned for some time how that could be possible. The presents under the tree that are from Santa are in fact from Daddy and I, and we fill the stockings too. After you and your brother go to sleep on Christmas Eve, Daddy and I are hard at work, sneaking quietly to make Christmas magical- just like Grammy and Poppy did for Daddy, and their parents did for them.
And that is where the other part of the answer comes in- Santa may not be real in the way you thought, but the spirit of him is a real part of Christmas. The story of Santa has been around for hundreds of years and the magic his story creates for children is a beautiful thing. And for adults too! I know that Santa is not real in an actual sense, but I still believe in his spirit as a grown up. I still feel the beauty and magic and love on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, even though I know the truth. And I hope you will too.
Santa teaches love and magic, and hope and happiness. He creates the ability to believe that anything is possible, that there are miracles in the world, and that giving to others freely is the surest way to fill your heart- and theirs- with joy.
So while now you may know that Santa himself isn’t sneaking down our chimney at night, I sincerely hope that you can still believe in the magic and beauty of his story. I hope that Christmas still feels special for you and that one day, you will make the Santa story come alive for your own children.
Learning about Santa is a big step in growing up. I have to admit, I shed a tear or two writing this as there is a certain part of childhood you are leaving behind. But here is the neat thing: you now get to be a creator of this magic, a helper, and elf, if you will. It is important to let each child realize the Santa story on their own, or the magic can be ruined. You are now a guardian of Santa- like Daddy and I have been for you. You must keep his story alive for those that still believe, like your brother and your friends. It is a really big responsibility but one that you must take seriously. You can now help spread the love and the belief in miracles and the magic of Santa- you are now on his team, as Daddy and I have been for all the Christmas mornings you can remember. Welcome.
You may have more questions, and I am happy to answer them. Or you may just need to let this sit for a while. Just know that while the Santa you see at the mall surely is not real, the love and generosity and spirt of kindness and giving that he instills in people is very real and very important. Be sure to carry the Santa story with you in your heart forever.
With love and respect, as you grow up--