The Year I Learned the Truth About Santa

by Sally Matheny

Photo: The Truth About Santa

It’s time to face the facts, people. Christmas will be here as quick as Jack Frost. Are you ready?

And since we’re talking about facts, grab a cup of coffee and let me tell you about the year I learned the truth about Santa.

In the early hours of Christmas morning, at age four, I bolted to my parents’ bedroom. Groping in the dark room, I found my mama’s arm and whispered, “I heard Santa!”

A muffled murmur came from the pillow, “It’s not time yet.” 
“No, mama. I heard a loud thud. He’s here right now!”
Never cracking an eye, she mumbled, “Go back to bed. We’ll wake you when it’s time.”
Clearly, my mama did not understand what was happening. A strange, fat man wearing a fur-trimmed, red velour suit was in our house! At that moment, I could care less if he had toys with him or not. I was terrified. Obviously, my parents were too asleep to comprehend. 

There was no way I was going back. My room was closest to the point of invasion--the den. I would have to seek safety in my sister’s room.
Heart racing, I peered out my parents’ doorway. Pitch black. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t there. I knew he had special powers—the ability to fly reindeer, to see me when I was sleeping, and magic to go up and down chimneys. We didn’t have a chimney.  Imagine my horror to learn he had a magic key to open any door he liked. 
Hearing no sounds, I tiptoed quickly into my older sister’s room, shutting and locking the door behind me. I slid between the covers with great stealth. The thought of waking up my sister conjured up almost as much fear as I had of the Christmas intruder.
Leaving Cookies and Milk with Love
Of course, by morning time, the fears flew  with the flinging of wrapping paper.

As years passed, I resolved the trade-off of getting presents was worth the uneasy feeling of Santa entering my house while I was asleep. Besides, all the movies and books portrayed him as jolly and kind. Everyone else seemed to be okay with it. After all, you only leave cookies and milk for people you love. So, I learned to love Santa.
Every October, I began singing songs about him. I knew he was watching to see if I was behaving or not, so I tried to remember to be good—especially once Thanksgiving arrived. I wrote him letters and eagerly visited his “helper” Santas in every store each Christmas. Santa became dear to my heart.
Then, in fourth grade, devastation struck. Terrible rumors questioning Santa's existence had the whole class in a quiet uproar. Whispered opinions darted across the room. One friend said her mama told her, “If you believe in him, he’s real.” That sounded good to me. I loved Santa.

I hated Stuart Whistlenot.
He kept insisting Santa was not real. My friend, Kim and I were determined to prove him wrong. 

The next day, when Kim arrived at school, she was upset. 

“What is it?” I asked.
“Santa,” she sniffled.
My eyes widened as I drew in a breath. "What about him?"
"My mom said you need to ask your mom.”
“You tell me right now,” I demanded. “He's real, right?”
Tears welling up in her eyes, she slowly shook her head no. We hugged one another and cried. I was furious at Stuart Whistlenot.  Somehow, all this seemed his fault.
Is Jesus real?
Immediately after learning the truth about Santa, other thoughts swirled furiously in my mind. 

If Santa isn’t real, then what else is not true?  
Somehow, I always thought the Easter bunny sounded ridiculous and never quite bought into that. 

I figured out the tooth fairy after she forgot to leave money under my pillow a few times. Those characters were never as important, or as real, to me as Santa.
Here’s the thing. My very next thought was--is Jesus real?
For the first eight years of my life, people had read to me and taught me all about Santa. Adults at school, at church, and pretty much every adult I had ever met talked about Santa as if he were alive and well. Many of those same people also talked to me about Jesus.
I asked my best friend that day at school, “Is Jesus real?”
“I think so…I don’t know.”

Our world, as we knew it, slowly crumbled in confusion.
I remember Christmas not being quite the same that year. On Christmas morning, I tried to act excited and surprised because I thought it would make my parents happy. Inside, I felt like something was missing.
Something was missing, or rather Someone. After a year of struggling with doubts, I am thankful to say my friend and I both accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We accepted Him as the Truth.
After mourning the death of Santa that first year, my joy returned. I’d like to say it was all because of my relationship with Jesus. However, my Christmas "joy" over the years fluctuated. Many years, even as a young adult, I was caught up in the “magic” of Christmas, the hustle and bustle, decorating, and gift giving. 

However, my Christian walk gradually drew me closer to the manger, to a true and lasting joy.

Is a magical Christmas best?
When our first child was born, we envisioned magical Christmas mornings with her. Christmas traditions held special memories in our hearts. For the first few years, we did the Santa thing. Then I remembered my fourth-grade Christmas.
Before our daughter's fourth birthday, we made a decision that was not popular with many folks. But it gave us great peace.  

Family traditions would still be an important part of our lives but we promised to tell our children the truth. We never wanted them to doubt our word, to wonder if we were being honest.
Santa does not come to our house. We still decorate and have family gatherings. Gift giving takes place and lots of baking. Quite often, we still struggle not to jingle our way through the hustle and bustle. We love the excitement of giving gifts. Constantly reigning in our materialistic side, we do things that help us focus on the true meaning of Christmas.
Occasionally, when our children were very young, they would hear so much about Santa from others. Even though they knew the truth, they would still come home and ask, “Is Santa Claus real?”
I would tell them the history of the human St. Nicholas, who had no special powers, but was kind to others. We talked about how playing Santa is something people do for fun. My husband and I would remind them of our promise to tell them the truth. 
Recently, I read in Acts 14 about Barnabas and Paul’s journey to Lystra. The men were kind and healed people in the name of Jesus. They were called gods. The people brought bulls and wreaths to sacrifice to them.

“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, ‘Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God…” (Acts 14:14-15).

When I read this, it made me wonder if that is how St. Nicholas would feel? He did kind things for other people because of his love for Jesus Christ. 

Somewhere along the way, in their enthusiasm, people misinterpreted St. Nicholas. If he could, would he tear his clothes today and rush out to the parents and children, shouting, “Friends, why are you doing this? I was only human, like you. Turn from these worthless things to the living God!” 
Jesus is God's amazing gift of love
I wanted to share with you about my struggles with Santa—as a child and as an adult.  I know some Christian parents labor over this. 

Even now, an inner scuffling still takes place every Christmas between beloved traditions, the desire to make everyone happy, and staying focused on Jesus Christ.

My prayer is for God to continue reminding us of his amazing gift of love and that we share that with others. 

The simple Truth is all we need.

If you found this post helpful, you may also enjoy reading "Besides Love, the Best Gift for Baby's First Christmas."