There's still time for little ones to believe in Christmas magic
I knew it was only a matter of time.
My oldest child, at 10-years-old, has believed in Santa and the Elf on the Shelf a lot longer than probably most of her peers. Sure, she asked questions about Santa and whether or not he was real several years ago, around the time she was in first grade. But instead of caving and admitting reality, we answered her questions about Santa with more questions - specifically asking her whether she believed Santa was real. At the time, she said she did.
We left it at that.
Fast-forward four years, and our little girl isn’t so little anymore. Now in fifth grade, she’s headed to middle school next year. After a long week away recently where our kids stayed with my in-laws in our home, we were greeted with a very excited 10-year-old.
“Mommy, I found the elf in the chest at the end of the bed,” she whispered. “Does that mean you guys move the elf?
It was a chaotic moment where the other kids were excited that we were home, so I played dumb for a moment and told her I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. But I texted my sister later, telling her that the time to come clean was here.
But my sister begged me not to. She worried that if my oldest daughter knew, it would mean that word about the elf and Santa would spread like wildfire, first to my other two kids and then to my niece, who at 8-years-old is still very much into the Elf on the Shelf.
“Tell her that ‘if you don’t believe, you don’t receive,’” my sister advised.
I was in third grade when my mother sat me down on the corner of her bed and explained to me the truth about Santa after I asked her repeatedly. At the time, my mom told me that it was now my responsibility to ensure that my sister, who is three and a half years younger, still believed. As a kid I took this role seriously, even going so far as to put ashes on a boot to make footprints on the fireplace hearth on Christmas Eve. Another time, I snuck a lump of charcoal from our grill - the closest thing I could find to actual coal - into the bottom of my little sister’s stocking. I don’t think my mom was too pleased with me the next morning.
Apparently, my mom never even told my sister the truth about Santa.
We didn’t have Elf on the Shelf when I was a kid because it’s only become a thing in recent years. And even then, I drug my feet on it. I adopted an elf after my niece got so into it and had three different elves. That made my children want to know why their cousin has so many magical elves moving around her house at Christmas time and we had none. I begrudgingly got an elf a short time later, only instead of detailed antics that the elves “caused” at my sister’s house, our elf simply moves from room to room. Sometimes, the elf “forgets” to move at all.
And so, as we were decorating the small, silver Christmas tree we put up in my kids’ room last weekend, my 10-year-old hung the pastel-colored glass ornaments as I untangled the hooks. My daughter asked me once again about the elf, telling me again that she found the figure in my hope chest.
I didn’t lie. I told her that yes, we do move the elf around, to help keep the magic of Christmas alive for our family. But now that she knew the truth, it was her responsibility to keep the secret and ensure the other kids continued to believe.
In true oldest child fashion, my daughter has taken this role on with zeal, staying up a little later than the other kids every night to come up with new ideas and antics for the elf - a responsibility I’m more than glad to pass on to someone else.
“It’s a rule that if you know the truth about the elf, you cannot tell other kids that you do,” I told my daughter, assuming that she now accepted the reality of both the elf and Santa, although I didn’t spell it out in so many words. “Because you don’t want to spoil Christmas for others.”
She nodded her head in agreement and replied, “because Santa may not come if I do.”
I smiled and looked at her, trying to decipher if she was serious or if she still believes in Santa. I honestly couldn’t tell.
Perhaps we have more time after all.