Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a blog post about my daughter believing in Santa Claus. Not unusual. Except my daughter was in senior school and about to turn thirteen.
I shared the concerns my husband and I had about her being bullied at school for her beliefs and the debate we’d had as to whether to tell her what most children had worked out (or been told) years earlier. I canvassed opinion and, without exception, everyone who responded on the blog post or when I shared it on Facebook said to keep the magic going.
Last year we had the most amazing family holiday to Lapland, flying out on Ashleigh’s birthday and returning a few days later. It really was magical and made all the more so because Ashleigh still believed, although the visit to see ‘the real Santa’ was actually one of the least impressive parts of the trip. He seemed a bit bored, insulted her question as predictable (how rude!) and we felt a bit rushed. Not to worry, though, as every other part of the trip was fabulous.
So, as thoughts turned to Christmas this year, hubby and I braced ourselves. Would this be the year she stopped believing?
A few weeks ago, before we went into Lockdown2 in England, Ashleigh and I nipped into town after school to pick up a copy of A Christmas Carol; the book she’s studying in English. As we were driving home discussing the book, the conversation inevitably turned to Christmas.
‘My friends keep telling me Santa doesn’t exist,’ she said.
I have always approached this with my standard answer: ‘What do you think?’
‘I think that I’m probably of an age where, if he doesn’t exist, I should know that….’
I braced myself for her to admit it, slightly gutted that we’d finally reached that point.
‘…but I still think he does exist.’ And then she rattled off the same evidence about her dad making the desk she’d used before. (You can read about that in my original post here).
She stuck with the subject and I couldn’t decide whether she was hinting that she would like me to tell her ‘the truth’ so I tried something different: ‘So your friends say Santa doesn’t exist and you say he does. What would you say if I said he didn’t?’
She looked at me for a moment and shook her head. ‘It would make me cry so I don’t want you to tell me.’
And we changed the subject.
About a week later, it cropped up again. In Religious Studies, they’d been talking about the difference between facts and beliefs. ‘Some of my friends said that believing in Santa was a belief instead of Santa existing being a fact.’
‘What did you say?’ I asked, wondering if this was the moment.
‘I said it was a belief too but I didn’t tell them I believe.’
I felt so sad for her. I sensed she was struggling and wanted it confirming but, unless she directly came out and asked me to tell her the absolute honest truth, I wasn’t going to be the one to tell her. In the turd of a year that 2020 has been, why wouldn’t I want to hold onto this wonderful piece of magic for her for as long as I could?
Then a week ago … and I’m actually crying as I write this because it breaks my heart … she arrived home from school and burst into tears. She had a horrific bullying incident on the bus at the start of the year – so serious it involved the police – and I was scared it had reared its ugly head again but, instead she wailed, ‘XXX and XXX were laughing at me on the bus. They told me Santa doesn’t exist and they laughed at me and said it’s your parents and everyone knows that from, like, when they’re six. They were really horrible.’
She then asked for the truth and I had to admit they were right. To say they weren’t would confuse her, diminish her respect in us, and set her up for further bullying.
She was inconsolable. I asked her what hurt the most: her friends bullying her or discovering Santa didn’t exist. It was the latter and my heart broke even more.
We had lots of cuddles and she was reassured that she’d still put her stocking out and get presents, we’d still put out a ‘Santa Stop Here’ sign and hang the magic key on the door, and we’d still leave treats for Santa and the reindeer. But it was us who’d buy, wrap (and make where required) the gifts and put them out when she’d gone to bed.
I’m so disappointed for her that this little piece of magic was taken away in the year when we need it most. I’m also disappointed in the cruelty of the girls who mocked her, especially as one is meant to be a good friend but I don’t think they really meant to be nasty; it was probably just a surprise to have someone of their age still believing. I tried to imagine myself at their age if one of my friends had still believed. Maybe I’d have laughed too.
A couple of days later, she had a serious question for me. The family of elves who come and wreak havoc…. were they us too? Yes, they were and the reason they often didn’t move was because we forgot or we ran out of ideas!
‘We might as well get it all out there,’ I said. ‘Who else do you think doesn’t exist?’
She looked at me blankly.
I tapped my teeth and flapped my arms.
‘The tooth fairy?’ she asked, laughing. ‘I haven’t believed in her for years. Like fairies really exist! What do you take me for?’
So apparently it’s a ridiculous notion that fairies exist but a bearded man in a red suit delivering gifts to all of the children around the world in one night was absolutely plausible. Love it!
So now she knows. This Christmas will be different anyway. We won’t get to see either of our families like we normally would as, with hubby and I having two siblings each, that would be four families connecting on each side. And now, with a non-believer in the house, it will be even more different. We’ll do our best to keep the magic going, though. Right now, I believe in Santa and miracles. Don’t you?