A son accuses his father of telling a Christmas lie.
This year, my ten-year-old son stopped believing in Santa Claus.
After long weeks of badgering from his more cynical friends, he finally came to me and asked me, please, to tell him the truth. "Is there really a Santa Claus who brings me presents every Christmas Eve?"
I spent a long moment looking into his eyes, searching them for some clue to the answer that would be the right one for this moment. Finally, I answered, "No, son. Santa Claus did not bring you presents. Those presents came from your mom and me."
At first, he cried, mourning, as if that jolly old elf had died. Which, in a sense, I suppose he had. After a while, though, the tears dried up and his eyes hardened with anger. "How could you tell me all those lies? My friends all knew, and they laughed at me for still believing. Now, I have to admit they were right, and they'll laugh at me some more."
"Son," I said, "come here." He's still willing to sit on my lap once in a while, thank goodness, and he climbed aboard, as I wrapped him up in a hug. "What your friends think about Santa Claus doesn't matter. They're entitled to their own beliefs and opinions, but so are you."
"Yeah, but they're right! You were lying to me!"
"I guess you could look at it that way, if you want to. But please, let me tell you about the way I see it, okay?" He nodded.
"You know what Christmas is about, right?"
"Sure. It's Baby Jesus's birthday."
"That's right. Jesus became a symbol for something, didn't he? Something that started a whole new religion. Do you know what it is?"
"It's love, son. Jesus became a symbol to millions of people of God's love for humankind."
"Wow. Okay, but what's that got to do with Santa Claus?"
"Good question. Santa Claus is a symbol of love, too. To me and your mom, he represents our love for you. When I was your age, or thereabouts, I found out that Santa Claus didn't really come down the chimney to bring me presents, and I felt just like you do now. First, it broke my heart, just like it broke yours, when I felt Santa die. Then I got mad at my parents for telling me lies. I promised myself right then that I would never lie to my own children that way."
"You didn't keep your promise, Dad."
"No, I didn't. You know I do my best to keep my promises, though, right?"
"I meant to keep that one, too, right up to the second the doctor held you up in the delivery room, and your eyes opened and you looked at me. Do you know what happened then?"
He shook his head, but his eyes were locked on mine, just the way they were in that moment, ten years or so earlier, and I felt it again, as I had then: an almost electric jolt.
"Santa Claus came back to life, right here." I tapped my chest, and tears blurred my vision.
Blinking them away, I tried to explain. "You see, son, you may not be able to hop on the Polar Express and take a ride to Santa's Workshop. There may be nothing at the North Pole but ice and maybe a marker from some explorer a century or so ago. The presents under the tree may come from factories in China or someplace, and not from that magical workshop, they may have been bought with the money your mom and I work for all year long, but none of that means that Santa isn't real."
"Yes, it does!"
"No, son, it doesn't."
"Santa exists in my heart, in your mom's heart, and in the heart of every parent who ever loved a child. The magic of Christmas is love. When we share the story of Santa Claus with you, we pass the magic along to the next generation. When you grow up, you'll hopefully have a child of your own, and I bet you'll pass it along, too."
He looked at me for a long time, long enough for ten magical Christmases to replay in my head: his first, when he was not yet a year old, his eyes large in his head, fascinated by the blinking lights on the tree; his second, as he toddled around, chasing the cat until she climbed up into its branches to escape him; his third, when he horrified the babysitter by pulling the tree over, breaking several heirloom ornaments; his fourth, when he started to think about Santa in earnest, working with his mother over his Christmas list, and onward, making list after list, waiting up until well after midnight to get the gifts out of hiding, drinking half a glass of milk and biting a cookie, or nibbling a reindeer carrot, and waking up well before dawn as little feet came padding into our bedroom to rouse us with a hearty, "Mommy! Daddy! Wake up! Santa's been here!"
Finally, he blinked, and something changed. His mouth curled into a little half-smile, and he said, "Maybe."
I gave him another hug and answered, "Good enough."