By Daniella Cornue
Vivie is 5 which means she is in love with all things Christmas and Santa. The magic that she believes in is contagious. It fills the season with more sparkle and wonder than I have had in years. She is so excited that it’s hard not to also be excited about the wonders and delights of the holiday season.
That said, I have seen and heard and read many things lately about how letting your children believe in Santa is like lying to them. Yipes. Honesty is a pillar of my parenting style so of course it gives me pause. Am I lying to her? That’s certainly not what I’m trying to do. Am I setting up a scenario in which my daughter will accuse me of misleading her?
I analyzed it while lying awake one morning while she dozed in my arms. I know one day that she will come to me and ask me the dreaded question—is Santa Claus real? I thought intensely about how I would answer that for her. Do I double down? Do I just fess up? How will she respond?
And instead of answering it at all, I have decided that I won’t answer her at all. I will simply say, “It doesn’t matter what anyone else believes in. What do you believe in?”
And for a long time, she may exuberantly say “YES!” and then the conversation can end there. Who am I to tell anyone else what they can believe in—even my daughter.
Then someday, there will come a time when she may pause, and shake her head no, asking me with her eyes to affirm her greatest holiday fear. And I’m not even sure that that greatest fear will be that there is no Santa. It will be that there is no magic in the world.
I won’t affirm that for her because I don’t believe that for one second.
I believe in magic. I believe in faith in things unseen. I am not particularly religious—but when I found myself in a big city, lonely, broke, and lost at 22, I loved to sit in the back pew in a big cathedral. There was solace in the quiet. There was something mysterious and reverent–something I couldn’t quite articulate but knew that I needed. Perhaps it’s the energy of thousands of past prayers. Past hopes. Others lost and wishing to be found. Perhaps it was my imagination. But I would sit there in that back pew and quietly sing Amazing Grace. And I felt seen. And it gave me hope. I felt the magic of that place.
When I was a child, I would cry because I looked so different from everyone in my family. My mother took to telling me that I was her fairy child. I was beautiful and perfect. We’d sit at dusk as the sun cast golden shadows in the garden and the fireflies would awake, and we’d look for fairies. Did you see?! Perhaps that flicker was them! I built them little houses and nests hoping to catch a glimpse. I still find myself absentmindedly sipping my wine during a sunset in the Midwest and think—I saw a sparkle! I saw the magic.
I actually found out very young that my mother bought the gifts that were under our tree. I remember it vividly—not because my hopes were dashed—but because my mom was devastated. She sobbed. She and my dad worked so hard to give our struggling family Christmas. She begged me not to tell my sisters and she apologized through her tears. I crawled into the bed that I shared with my two sisters and stared at the wood paneling that made up the walls of the trailer that we lived in. The rainbow lights of Christmas cast long colors on the dark walls. Our homemade Christmas decorations swayed from a draft somewhere in the room. My sister rolled over into my arms. She was smiling in her sleep. Visions of sugarplums or something like that. And, in that moment I realized that now I was a different part of the magic. The secret.
As I got older I realized that it wasn’t just the secret of Santa that I found to be magical year after year. It was the graciousness of others. It was the hope that the season carried. It was that somehow every year, I always got the big gift I asked for. I knew my mom worked doubles to be able to get my special gift. It represented a huge amount of love and sacrifice. That’s magic too.
As I reflect on it even today, I think that maybe that’s really the magic of Santa. That one man can inspire this much joy and wonder. The bottom line, whether you believe in Santa or not—is that every year his legacy inspires millions of people to slow down, even just for a morning, and prioritize the joy of their family and their children. To light up their houses to bring their neighbors joy. To bake together or read stories and to create memories. And yes, to honor one another with a gift. Think of how much magic there is in that! Santa Clause. The man is the original influencer. His story and his legend are enough to inspire people to take action. Who says that this is not the magic of Santa Claus? Who says that this isn’t how a single man delivers thousands of toys around the world–through influence?
I literally cried when Vivie got to meet Santa at Le Village when she was 3. She leapt into his arms in her excitement. She showed him her ballerina work and he chuckled and they danced. There was most certainly magic in that moment. Even one year later, it was just slightly different. She was happy but cautious. Time is the mistress of no fool or something like that. I do not know what version of belief this year will bring. I made a note to make time to volunteer with her this year so that she could see other ways that this season of giving holds magic.
I don’t believe that letting our children believe in magic is lying to them. How can we not carry their joyful souls into this world without seeing sparks of it everywhere? Maybe you’ll choose not to tell them about Santa and that’s okay too. But children can see things we can’t. They already see magic—because it’s all around us in small and big ways. Maybe your family celebrates, Kwanza, Hanukkah, or Diwali at this time of the year. I bet there are 100 ways to find magic in the traditions and stories your families share. There will always be magic. I find it in our families every time I walk into the building.
So no matter how your family celebrates– may your holiday season be filled with generosity, wonder, and light. And may you find peace as you soak up the magic of the season.