My sister never lets me forget I was the one who destroyed her belief in Santa. She was only in kindergarten when I dropped the bomb, taking away the myth of the jolly old elf who delivered presents every Christmas and replacing it with the harsh reality that flying reindeer don’t exist. I thought I was sharing a great secret. She thought I was taking away the magic of Christmas.

I was only in second grade at the time and had learned the truth from our older brother. I must not have believed him at first because to prove his point he ushered me out to my grandparents’ mobile trailer where my parents had stashed the goodies. And there was the proof – all the toys and gifts we had asked Santa to bring. Eureka! My big brother had obviously stumbled upon a giant secret. Thinking that my sister should also be privy to this discovery, I promptly went to inform her that Santa didn’t exist.

I don’t remember her reaction to the news, but she says she cried. And 35 years later, she still reminds me of my evil deed and gives me a bad time about destroying her belief in Santa. It’s become something of a joke between us, but now that we both have children, I realize just how young she was when I broke the spell, and I feel bad that I was the one who took that magic away from her.

My own son is eight now, and I’m glad he still believes. I’ve tried to keep the magic going for as long as I can, by sending Christmas letters from Santa and reminding him to be on his best behavior to stay on Santa’s Nice List. This year I might even try showing him real Santa pictures of the jolly old elf in our house. But I imagine that some day soon – either this season or perhaps next – one of his friends will break the news and he’ll come to ask us the truth. What will I say?

I’ve learned from experience that often the best answer to these tricky questions is another question: what do YOU think? Often kids don’t want a big long explanation. It reminds me of the joke about a little boy who asked his mom where he came from and she went into a detailed explanation about the birds and the bees. When she finished he said, “But where do I come from? Johnny is from Chicago.”

santa evidence kitSo my first response will be to find out what he thinks. If he’s not ready to let go of the magic, I will let him continue to believe and tell him that I, too, believe, and we’ll leave it at that. But if, as I suspect, he’s too smart for that and realizes all those shopping mall Santas look different and no one could fly around the whole world in one night, then I’ll have to tell him the truth.

But when I do, I’ll tell him that I still believe in Santa. I believe that the spirit of giving that lives today in the myth of Santa comes to us from the very real spirit of Saint Nicholas, a generous soul who donated his fortune to the poor and spent his life helping those in need, particularly children. His compassion and generosity set a very real example for millions of people who have translated his good deeds into the legend of Santa.

And I believe we are always given gifts in life when we try our best, play well with others, and remember to use our manners. These are qualities Santa always looks for when deciding who goes on the Nice list and who goes on the Naughty list. But we don’t need the fear of Santa’s list to practice these traits. All we need to know is that these qualities will bring us gifts every day of our life. These gifts may not come in boxes, bags, or bows, but they will come to us in the form of lasting friendship, love, and happiness.

I also believe in the magic of Santa. I believe life is miraculous, magical and wonderful, just like Santa, but only those who are willing to believe in the mystery will be able to see the beauty in a world that is also full of war, hunger, hatred and fear. Just as with a belief in Santa, the magic will disappear as soon as you choose to let it go. Belief in magic takes patience and care. Many people cannot see small miracles that happen around them every day because they are so blinded by the trappings of our fast-paced society.

I believe what Santa gives to children and adults alike is the ability to see life through the eyes of a child. We are reminded that it’s important to play and laugh, to let our imagination run wild, and to hope for the impossible. These are things I can believe in.

I hope that when my son realizes Santa is only a symbol for all these good things, he won’t be too disappointed and will still want to share the legend of Santa Claus with his kids some day. I think the world would be a much sadder place without the jolly old elf. I only hope my son agrees.

Reprinted with permission from Is Santa Real? How Do You Answer the Question? by lisadh on Squidoo