Last year, Chiara and I had a conversation about Santa. It was becoming quite obvious in a lot of her comments that she was beginning to doubt Santa’s existence. I knew I was going to have the talk one day and even anticipated the conversation a few years before, after hearing parents complain about how bad they felt “lying” to their kids about Santa, and how they dreaded telling the truth.
The thing is we are not really lying about Santa, aka Saint Nicholas. He did exist and was known to have been a generous and heroic person who always helped the poor, especially children. There are many stories and tales about his deeds. His evolution to today’s Santa Claus, a jolly cherubic fellow who’s omnipresent during the holiday season, is something that happened when we tried to commercialize and capitalize on his image a bit more. In the US, he first appeared in folklore and poems in the 1800s and back then, he was not the central figure during the holidays.
So when Chiara and I finally talked, I told her of Saint Nicholas’ legacy and how parents around the world want to keep his spirit alive by trying to bring joy to their children through gifts. Parents wanted to leave gifts for their children in secret the way Saint Nicholas left his treats anonymously to those children he wanted to help.
“And that is the truth about Santa,” is how I wrapped up the discussion with my daughter as I gave her a big hug. As I looked at her, I noticed the relief in her eyes in knowing about Saint Nick and the joy in now being part of the grown-up world who knows what the real deal is.