My Jewish parents were not especially observant while I was growing up, but they were observant enough not to celebrate Christmas. As a result, I never believed in Santa Claus; I have vague memories of my parents warning me, when I was five or six, not to let Christian and blissfully ignorant friends in on the secret that presents under the tree were from their parents, not from the guy with the beard. My lovely shiksa wife did believe in Santa Claus for a while—and she still resents it. When I asked her about it, she muttered darkly about misleading kids and stupid rituals and superstitious idiocy and how much she hated our country's nostalgia and fetishization of all things Christmas. Then she went back to bitterly panicking about getting our Christmas packages out.
So, in this as in all things, my wife and I agree. Santa Claus is a myth that's pointless at best and irritating at worst, and there's no reason to foist his big red keister upon our progeny. Ergo, our son does not believe in Santa Claus. Right?
Well . . . not exactly.
In fact, somehow, somewhere along the line, he did in fact start believing in Santa Claus, despite our candor with him. And he hasn't really stopped yet, even though he's eleven. Almost a tween. Where did we go wrong?
As with so many things, we blame the grandparents. My wife's parents approached Christmas with a rather terrifying intensity. The towering mounds of presents were the most obvious manifestation of their obsession, but they pushed the Santa propaganda too. Since they lived fairly close to us when the boy was little, they had plenty of time for indoctrination, and before we knew it, there he was, expecting a gift from Santa and speculating seriously about how he managed to get to all those houses in a single night.
But while I can (and do!) blame the Granny and Papa, I can't say it's all their fault. The real culprit is closer to home. How many times, after all, have I told myself I should tell the boy that Santa isn't real? Many, many times. And just about every one of those times, I opened my mouth, and said to the boy, "Santa isn't real!"
And every time, he responds, "I don't believe you!"
There's not really any way around it; the person who is most to blame for the fact that our boy believes in Santa—the one individual who has thwarted my dreams of a Santa-free household, and my wife's dreams of a Santa-free household—is my son. He is committed to believing in Santa Claus, and he's not going to change his mind just because his dad and mom tell him different.
At this point, he's been exasperatedly telling me, "Santa Claus is too real, Daddy!" for going on seven years or so—ever since he learned to talk, just about. I keep thinking that at some point he'll come around and see his father's wisdom—and maybe he would have if he were in a different school system. But he goes to a hippie-dippie Waldorf school, which is wonderful in many ways, but which (in pursuit of wide-eyed wonder and hippie happiness for all) does not discourage belief in fairy sorts of things, whether gnomes or Santa Claus.
Even so, my son has managed to figure out that the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny are not real. Encouraged by the news that these figments were no more, I asked him, with paternal eagerness, if that meant he no longer believed in Santa Claus. He cast upon me a look of incongruous pre-teen scorn. "No, Dad," he said. "The tooth fairy isn't real; Santa Claus is."
Clearly, the boy wants to believe in Santa Claus. As a parent, you tend to assume that you have some say in forming your child's mental landscape; that you get to choose, at least to some degree, what he thinks or doesn't, and what he learns and when. And of course you do. But then Santa Claus comes along, and you're forced to admit—and quite early on—that the brain of your child is doing its own things, despite the best efforts of genetics and/or environment.
When will my son stop believing in Santa Claus? I have no idea; I don't, apparently, even get a vote. He'll stop when he feels like stopping, I guess. May he face all his disillusionments in similar time, when he's ready.