Yes, Maggie, There Is a Santa Claus – By Katie Andersen
When it comes to Santa Claus, Christmas is not easy on any parent. We go out of our way to conceal the reality from our little ones, encouraging good behavior with tactics like the “Elf on a Shelf” and half bitten cookies on a platter. It’s all fun and games until they decide to question the whole thing. As a parent of an original unbeliever, I’ve learned that the coming of the Christ and the story of Santa Claus are not necessarily opposed to one another, and that there is a catechetical lesson in the midst of it all.
“Santa is not real. He is fake. He is a decoration on the tree. Come here; I’ll show you.”
Two years ago, after asking our two-and-a-half-year-old what she’d like Santa to bring her for Christmas, Erik and I were met with this unexpected response. Maggie grasped our fingers tightly, dragged us to the Christmas tree, took a deep breath, and pointed out the silliness of our inquiry: “You see?”
We were unable to pinpoint an instance where this sort of realization could have been learned, so we simply shrugged it off to Maggie’s precocious, literal nature, and went on to enjoy taking full credit for her presents that year.
The following year, we tested her and were met with the same exact response. It had become clear that she was a bit frightened by the idea of an old man breaking into and entering her home – no matter what he intended to leave beneath the tree. Grandparents’ hearts were broken and preschool parents were concerned about the spoiler effect. So, we threw in a positive spin and seized the opportunity to focus on Jesus. Since Santa had nothing to do with it, I believe Maggie was more excited about celebrating Jesus’ birth than any other three-year-old in the history of Christmas.
This year, ever mindful of the need to keep Maggie’s potentially heartbreaking ideas to herself, we decided on a whole new approach. While in the car, on the way home from the first gift shopping trip, I had the full attention of our little “Thomas” and prayed for inspiration as I began my dissertation.
“You know, Maggie,” I said, “there really is a Santa Claus. He was a very holy person who lived long ago and now he’s a saint in heaven.”
I paused for a response but received none.
“So it’s wrong to say ‘Santa is fake’ because that’s simply not true. Santa Claus is the nick name given to St. Nicholas who is a real person whose soul is alive with God in heaven.”
“I know about St. Nicholas” the now four-and-a-half-year-old Maggie said. “I know he’s real. But how many times do I have to tell you and Dadda that Santa Claus isn’t real? We’ve talked about this so many times already!”
Surprised at the sass I was getting for introducing a topic that hadn’t been brought up in over a year, I somewhat sternly replied, “Maggie, that’s not true and I will tell you why. Do you know how Mama’s name is Katelyn but most people call me Katie? And how your name is Maggie and sometimes we call you Maggie Moo? Well it’s the same for St. Nicholas. The word ‘Santa’ means ‘saint’ and ‘Claus’ is short for ‘Nicholas’.” I even gave myself a bit of a Greek accent to highlight the ‘co-laus’ connection.
“Nick is also another name you might hear people call Santa Claus, for instance, ‘Good ‘ole St. Nick’. You remember his story, right – how he was such a generous person, known for giving gifts to good people in need? Well, during this time when we celebrate God giving us the greatest Gift of all – the Gift of Jesus – we remember how Santa Claus became a saint by being loving and generous to people and teaching them about God’s Gift of Jesus.”
“I remember that,” uttered a thoughtful voice from the backseat.
“That’s good, because then you can understand why people like to tell lots of stories about St. Nicholas or Santa Claus around this time of year, right?”
“Well, there’s just one thing, Mama. I can’t believe the story that reindeer can fly or that Santa Claus goes down chimneys and into people’s houses – that’s just crazy!”
Choking down my laughter, I explained that flying reindeer and the sliding down chimneys are great examples of the stories people enjoy telling about Santa Claus and his adventures in gift-giving.
“How about this?” said Maggie in her “I’ve got this all figured out” voice, “Since I know Santa is not fake, I’ll just pretend to believe those other crazy stories so that I don’t hurt any kids’ feelings?”
“That sounds like a great idea, Maggie…it might even be fun.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll pray to St. Nicholas and pretend that Santa Claus flies reindeer around on Christmas Eve.”
“You’ve got it, kiddo!”
And with that, I thought I had closed the conversation and continued to spare my child from playing the Grinch and ruining the Christmas of some bright-eyed Cindy Lou Who. I truly thought I had paved the way for my child to “believe” without tampering with her skeptical nature. “Wow,” I muttered to myself, “we might enjoy a little Christmas magic after all…without ever having told an untruth to our child!”
Well, in true Maggie fashion, she threw a curve ball in at the end: “I promise I’ll pretend really well unless…unless, of course, you take me to the North Pole and I go into Santa’s house and I see the reindeer fly!”
Pulling into the driveway, I turned off the car, grabbed Thomas from her car seat, and said, “Let’s go talk to Dadda.”
Graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville and former Editorial Coordinator for McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, Katie currently works as a Realtor at Purdy Realty in Burnt Hills. Katie and her husband Erik, along with their children, Maggie and Owen, are members of the parish family of Immaculate Conception.