“So long, Santa!” What happens to you when your kid stops believing? In truth, a great deal occurs that you start wishing never happened. While there is still holiday joy, all the mystery and suspense evaporates into the cold seasonal air. The wonder is gone, and the excitement of actually playing the part of Santa Claus – which I have done for the last 21 Christmases since the birth of my first child until now. I even went so far as putting on the hat and beard as I wrapped Christmas presents in the attic, and now that is all gone. I’m hanging up my hat and beard. Bah, Humbug!
I know what you’re thinking – I’m making this all about what this is doing to me – but nothing could be further from the truth. This is all about my son and the void that is left in the wake of his not believing. We used to watch The Polar Express together every year, and he would always say, “I will always believe.” Alas, those days are gone now. He wants to watch Hawkeye and What If? on Disney+ and old Twilight Zone episodes on Hulu. Not one mention of the movie about the magical train to the North Pole.
So, you may ask, how do I know that he doesn’t believe anymore? Well, for one thing, he hasn’t come out and said, “I know there is no Santa.” I wish he did say that to me because I would launch into all my reasons why he should still believe. No, it was much subtler than that. It all began in the middle of November. Thinking back on it, I was taken by surprise and shaken when it happened.
My son has a December birthday. Every year I would remind him in early November that he had better sit down and write a list of things he wanted for his birthday. I would also tell him to make a list for his Mom and me and to write a letter to Santa with an attached list. He would usually sit down and get to work on it, and then I would mail the letter to the North Pole and share the lists with my wife.
This year things were different. My twelve-year-old came into my home office in early November with his birthday and Christmas lists done. He handed them to me and said to let him know if I had any questions. After he left the room, I gazed at the lists and shockingly there was only a birthday and Christmas list – there was no letter to Santa or list for the big guy! You might say, “Come on, he’s twelve, and kids don’t believe anymore at that age.” Really? I believed at that age – damn it, I still believe!
I was wondering what I should do. Should I go ask him for the letter and list for Santa? If I did that, and he said that there was no Santa or that he didn’t believe anymore, that would break my heart. However, if I said nothing then I could go about my business and hope that there was some semblance of belief still left inside him.
A few weeks later as I prepared to decorate for Christmas on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I went up into the attic and started taking down the boxes with our decorations and tree. There, in a plain box as to not make it conspicuous, were the Elves in the Shelf that have in some ways ruled our Christmases since 2005. We were given the first one when my daughter was little, and my mission every night during the Christmas season was to wait until the kids went to bed. I would then move the elf to a different location and put it in a silly position. I have been doing that ever since until this Christmas season.
The elves now rest in that box – a small coffin as it were – into which has been driven the last nail of my son’s childhood. The elves (all three of them) were no longer in need of being moved each evening. The mission which I secretly grumbled about all these years was now over. I grumbled because sometimes I forgot to move the elves and remembered in the middle of the night. Then I would go downstairs in my bare feet (stepping on LEGO pieces in the dark is very painful) to move the elves. Funny how I miss this so much now.
Every year after Thanksgiving, my son would always ask when were the elves going to come back to us, but this year he didn’t say a word. I guess I had a good run with the fantasy part of Christmas. I know in my own heart that I never truly didn’t believe in Santa. My own father – much more pragmatic and much less emotional than I am – simply said when I asked where Santa’s toys were one year that Santa stopped coming when you hit 12. Bang! End of story. The jolly old elf had left my life for good (until my first child was born).
My son is more like his grandfather was. He seems to have no emotion about Santa Claus now, after being super excited in the past and wanting to write him and the elves messages. But now the guy who brought him great surprise gifts like the enormous Millennium Falcon (Han Solo’s ship from Star Wars) one year, or the medieval knight’s castle another year, and the cowboy town and fort in other years, was now yesterday’s news. All the toys he brought and all the mystery and wonder were gone. He didn’t even ask to look at the Santa app on my phone to send St. Nick a message. All of this was gone forever now.
One day, I guess when he’s older, I will sit down with him and ask him about this time. Right now, I’m just not able to do so. I fear hearing him say that he doesn’t believe. If I don’t hear him say it, at least I can hold on a little longer to the notion that he retains a sliver of belief. What does it matter, you may ask. In the grand scheme of things, probably not that much. But I just want to hold onto that little boy who gazed up at the night sky on Christmas Eve looking for a sleigh pulled by reindeer, just like I did as a kid. I guess it’s selfish, but I just want that for one more Christmas, even if it’s only in my dreams.