Tonight our older three children and I watched the 1994 Tim Allen movie Santa Claus.
(Side note: The movie was showing on TV, the ABC Family channel. We are renting a beach house for a few months, and cable is included. As we have not subscribed to cable or satellite TV over the past 10 years, our children's experience with movies consists mostly of DVDs, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. There were actually very few commercials played, but each time they interrupted the movie the children acted so genuinely surprised, and then quite put out. By the time I was their age, I had probably spent as much or more time watching commercials than they have watching movies!)
The movie focuses on a not uncommon topic for Christmas movies, namely the existence of Santa Claus. All adults and some children disbelieve initially, including Tim Allen, who is thrust into the role of believer after Santa falls off his roof one Christmas Eve. My children (who loved the movie) are 10, 8, and 7-years-old. I watched them watching the movie, wondering what they thought of Santa Claus. Do they believe? I almost asked them as I tucked them into bed, but hesitated and decided not too.
I don't remember exactly when I stopped believing in Santa. One Christmas Eve of my youth I stared up into the clear night sky outside my grandparents' home in Myrtle Beach, straining for a glimpse of Santa's sleigh. I had absolutely no doubt that if I was fortunate enough to look in the right place at the right time, I would see him zipping through the sky like some holiday shooting star.
Eventually, doubt crept into my heart as evidence to the contrary began to accumulate. For a while I avoided thinking too hard on the subject, as if I knew that the illusion wouldn't stand deep scrutiny (even from a 7 or 8-year-old). Around my parents, other grown-up relatives, and younger children, I continued to play the role of sincere believer during these years whenever someone else brought up the topic. I, however, did everything I could to steer conversation away from it. This deception made me feel uncomfortable.
What caused these feelings, and why did I feel compelled to maintain the appearance of true believer in spite of my inner doubts? I think part of it was a desire not to disappoint my family. I recognized that, while not overly zealous in pushing belief in Santa, my parents and grandparents went to some effort to maintain the illusion in our home. I also don't think I wanted to infect other children with my personal doubts. Even at that age, I recognized that a mistaken belief in Santa Claus probably caused no harm, and I certainly didn't want to be responsible for crushing this belief in anyone.
Aside from these social concerns, I think something even profounder prompted my contradictory behavior during this period. Deep down, I hoped to be proven wrong. I accepted the logic of my doubts mentally, but I clung to a spark of hope that magic of the type Santa Claus represented really existed. Though everything around me pointed to the reality of Santa as extremely unlikely, I kept a door inside me open to the possibility for a few years. I suspect my children are in this stage of their childhood right now. I think it's such a sacred and fragile time, and that is why I hesitate to bring up the subject with them. In fact, I still feel that same reluctance to close the door on another's belief, even if mine has been shut closed for nearly three decades. After all, as impossible as the magic of Christmas may seem, just the possibility of such magic is a special thing all by itself.
Perhaps some of my children no longer believe. Our three-year-old daughter will believe anything we (her parents) tell her with simple, unquestioning faith. The older children likely suspect, or perhaps even know the truth. In any case, I think I will avoid putting them in the awkward situation of having to profess their belief (or disbelief). And in the meantime, I hope that they at least still hope that the magic of Christmas is real, as this the possibility may be all that truly separates childhood from adolescence and adulthood.