Goodbye Kids, Hello Holiday Helper

AE_HelloJoy

NOTE BEFORE READING | This post includes holiday spoilers for kids. 

A couple weeks ago (before Easter) Chris had "the talk" with Simon about some of the ways of the world related to the holidays. We had decided together it was time for him to hear it from us vs. from kids at school (whether well or ill intentioned). The talk went really well and I asked Chris if he'd be willing to write up the experience and if I could share it here. My hope is that it might help another parent as they navigate these waters with their kids. Obviously, every kid is different but the approach of becoming a "holiday helper" really seemed to resonate with Simon.


Since before this last holiday season of 2013 (Simon was 11), I have been concerned about how and when we were going to tell Simon the truth about those holiday icons, Santa and the Easter Bunny. You see, Simon has always been a true believer. And that kid has more Holiday spirit than anyone I have ever met. It is difficult to get away with cutting corners during the holidays with Simon. From advent calendars to outside lights on the house, there are certain things that you just do at the holidays....and he truly enjoys every moment and every tradition.

So you can imagine the angst as we had been anticipating how the conversation would go and how he would react. When we discussed it prior to last holiday season, we weren’t sure he was quite ready to make the leap in perspective...from one of innocent believer to one of being “in on the secret”. But it was clear that when he got into an argument with a sixth grade peer about whether Santa was real or not, that it would be time to let him know at least by next Christmas. I think he must be among the very last in his class to still believe. For many kids, it perhaps isn’t a big deal. But to Simon, truth is truth. He has always been a Santa believer and he is getting to the age where it could become another source of division between him and his classmates.

I talked with Tiff about this and she suggested approaching it by emphasizing that we were letting him in on a secret. She also suggested it would be an easier conversation when the holidays were way in the future, such as during the summer. I thought so too. Simon likes being “in the know” when others aren’t. He likes surprises. He loves giving surprises. He is good at keeping those secrets. In short, he is now old enough to join the grownups as a fellow keeper of holiday traditions and spirit.

Ali and I talked about it and agreed that this would be the year.

I decided to lay the groundwork with St. Patrick’s Day. When the kids woke up in the morning on March 17th, for the third year in a row, the Leprechauns had visited us in the night, making their usual mischief by turning over tables and chairs and leaving the house in disarray. What was different this year, was that after dropping Anna off at school, I let Simon in on a secret.

He just grinned when I told him that it had really been me that had turned the furniture over and pretended that it was Leprechauns. He actually thought it was pretty cool...both the trick and that he knew about it.

Fast forward to the week before Easter. I was in the hot tub at our local athletic club with both Anna and Simon. Tiff came to take Anna to the girls’ locker room to get changed so we could go eat dinner. Apparently Tiff had just seen the Easter Bunny walking through the lobby, so she and Anna hurried off to see if they could go see it. Simon wanted to see the Easter Bunny too but I suggested that Simon wait back for a minute while they went ahead. I don’t remember the exact order or wording of the conversation, but this is more or less how it went:

“So Simon, I want to let you in on a secret.”

“Uh, yes?”

“Do you remember Simon how on St. Patrick’s Day I told you that the Leprechauns don’t really exist, and that it was me that turned over all the furniture and pretended that the Leprechauns had visited us in the middle of the night?”

“Um, yeah...”

“Well, that is the same as with the Easter Bunny.”

Pause, pause, pause while I read his face as he is thinking – terrified that this could go very badly.

“Yep, we do that to make a fun holiday tradition for the kids. And all the grownups are in on the secret. And we all play along to make it fun for the kids on Easter. And now Simon, you are old enough to be let in on the secret. Now you are old enough to cross over to the other side and to even help up with the Easter holiday tradition.”

Pause, pause, pause....so far so good. No tears. No arguing. He’s clearly thinking. Wow this has to be a lot to absorb for such a strong holiday believer.

Pause, so far so good. If this keeps going this well we might as well rip the entire bandage off. I won’t bring up Santa but this could clearly end up with a discussion about the big guy.

“What do you think about that Simon? What do you think about us letting you in on the secret?”

Finally a grin.

“I think it’s pretty cool.”

And then started the questions.

“Wait, so when does the Easter Bunny hide the eggs?”

“He doesn’t. The Easter Bunny isn’t real. I am the Easter Bunny. Or mom is the Easter Bunny. Or maybe now you can even be the Easter Bunny. Every Easter morning I (or your Mom) set my alarm for really early and I get up and hide the eggs before you and Anna wake up. That’s why you never see the Easter Bunny.”

“Oh. But what about the Easter baskets?”

“That’s also grownups. We buy stuff for your baskets and then put them out early in the morning when we hide the eggs.”

“Oh, I see.”

“It’s a pretty cool tradition isn’t it? All the grownups having the same tradition to make the holidays special fun for the kids.”

“Yeah, it sure is.”

“And Simon, now YOU can be a part of that!”

Grinning.

“Yeah.”

He’s clearly still processing and thinking.

“Um, what about Santa Clause? Is he real?”

Here we go....Leprechauns, the Easter Bunny.....they’re cute, but hardly the focus for weeks if not months prior.....but Santa....oh man that is where things could go really sideways.

“Well Simon, it’s the same with Santa. Santa is a tradition created by grownups so that all the kids can have fun at Christmas. Just like the Easter Bunny or the Leprechauns. It is a secret that the grownups have to make Christmas magical. And now you are old enough to be let in on that secret also."

At this point he again visibly grins and even chuckles as he puts all the pieces start to fall into place for him. Pause, pause, pause.

“That is how Santa always knows what you want for Christmas. Because Santa is really Mom and me. We keep track of what you are saying you want for Christmas and then we get you and Anna presents from us but we also get you presents that we say are from Santa. And now you are in on the holiday secret.”

Then the grin fades to a brief look of concern as he poses the next question.

“Wait, will I still get presents?”

“Oh yeah Simon, you’ll still get presents from Santa. You will notice that even the grownups still get presents from Santa. We just always wrap those in one kind of wrapping paper that is different so they look like they are all from Santa. But really they are from each other.”

“But what about when we see Santa and tell him what we want for Christmas?”

“Well that is another grownup in a costume pretending to be Santa. You know how this year you were saying that Santa looked different than last year? And remember how Santa in Bend looked different than the Santa here in Eugene? That’s because they are different grownups in costumes. But since either Mom or Dad is always with you when you go see Santa we know what you ask for. Santa Clause is a great tradition that all the grownups around the world are a part of and we do it for kids at Christmas. And now you are old enough to be a part of that tradition. Pretty cool huh?”

“Mom and I talked about it last year, but we weren’t sure that you were ready yet to be let in on the secret. But this year, we think you are old enough to be a part of it and to be able to keep the secret yourself and to even help us. Now you can help and even be the Easter Bunny or Santa yourself! ..........Let’s go get showered up Simon so we can eat dinner.”

Then with a look of excitement he flicked his hand in the air (one of his signature moves) and declared, “Goodbye kids, hello helping holidays!”

And with that he grinned and seemed to stand a little taller as we walked to the boys locker room, where he continued to ask a few more questions about the tradition of Santa Clause... from the other side.

It went as well as I could have hoped. His heart wasn’t broken, and Simon still has the greatest holiday spirit of anyone I know. And now whenever he talks with us grownups about the Easter Bunny or Santa Clause in the presence of Anna, he includes a knowing wink. I love that.

Welcome to the other side Simon.


The image at the top of this post is from my 2011 December Daily® album. See more details here.

84 thoughts

  1. Lorna S.

    2014-04-28 20:10:34 -0500

    I'm 64 and I still believe in the spirit of each and every holiday. And my mom is 98 in years, yet can get as thrilled as a 5 year old over the special Easter basket centerpiece that was brought to her by the Easter Bunny. There's a wonderful line in the movie "Miracle on 64th Street." Believing is having faith in things you can't see. I remember the first time I heard that and held on to it for many years before I actually understood it. The more people who can share the spirit of a holiday helps keep the magic and joy for children of all ages.

    Well done - all the way around!

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  2. Terri

    2014-04-28 20:50:37 -0500

    This post made me cry. I have a son who will be 12 this week. He's growing into a fine young man but it makes me sad he's not a baby anymore. His mean teacher told his whole class Santa wasn't real:(

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  3. Carolyn..,b..

    2014-04-28 21:51:08 -0500

    Hi Ali,
    We went through the same thing 2 years ago..My aspergers son was in grade 6 too and the kids asked does he believe in Easter Bunny he said yes I have seen the footprints (when he was 6). Yes a truth is a truth..I did not want him being teased or made fun of either..We had the "big " talk..I thought it would be really hard but he was fine too.We did it all EB,Santa,Tooth fairy.Did mention at dinner have you told Liv ( little sis ) about Santa..So now its out of the bag..
    We still have just as much fun on all the holidays..I still HAVE to hide the eggs and Christmas we have elf and lots of other traditions..Now I get all the credit not Santa makes it easier..
    I know exactly where you are coming from and we still do not tell anyone outside of our house about what we believe..
    Loved reading your post..
    Carolyn

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  4. Linda T.

    2014-04-28 23:46:59 -0500

    This is awesome.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  5. kate Adderley

    2014-04-29 04:51:25 -0500

    What a beautiful post Ali, well done to Chris as well for writing such a wonderful story, and to Simon , who is now one of us.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  6. dawn

    2014-04-29 04:56:14 -0500

    LOVE LOVE THIS SO MUCH!! So glad it went well and I know Simon will be a great secret helper!!

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  7. J3SS1C4

    2014-04-29 08:03:13 -0500

    I seriously love this! I don't have kids yet, but I remember when I became Mum's holiday helper (I have 2 little sisters), and I still always found Christmas to be magical! I would stay up Christmas Eve and help Mum wrap, and I would have Santa's milk and cookies. Mum always made sure to wrap my presents herself so I didn't see them and still had a surprise. It's so awesome to hear that Simon is so enthusiastic about being your Holiday Helper, and that he gets to help keep the magic alive for Anna :)

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  8. krys72599

    2014-04-29 11:29:59 -0500

    I'm 53 and still a believer! What really came across in this post is that you can still believe and know the truth! And that is a wonderful gift - that Simon can still believe in the magic of the holiday(s) even though he's in on that "grown up surprise." I'm going to refer my niece and nephew to your post - their kids are babies still but they all grow up much earlier than we did, so this way they'll be prepared!

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  9. tiffany h.

    2014-04-29 12:17:55 -0500

    Thank you for sharing this family moment with us. You all are great at this parenting gig. Seriously. I was a child of divorce. It was not amicable at all. Although it is what it is. I sometimes wonder what it could have been if their focus was different. More on the kids than on each other. You & Chris are doing a wonderful job navigating co-parenting.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  10. C.Robin

    2014-04-29 13:24:06 -0500

    What a lovely post, thank you so much for sharing this with us!

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  11. Eileen

    2014-04-29 13:55:00 -0500

    My daughter was my son' sage when a friends parent talked about Danta not realizing that she still believed. That was a nightmare and I don't want that to happen to my son, so I have been thinking it might be time to tell him but it breaks my heart!! My 3 kids are all 9ish years apart, so when we told one we always had another one who still believed and kept the holiday magic alive. This time my son is the last one. He won't have anyone to help keep the secret alive for which was hoe I handled it with my other two also. It's so sad, but this post reminded me it's something I should do for him. I like the idea of doing it over the summer, I never knew when I should do it.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  12. Tracy

    2014-04-29 17:12:18 -0500

    A big round of applause to you and Chris! I think I am going to try this with my 11 year old, too! He has also always been a big believer (and he is also an ASD child), and I was getting worried about what would be said at school. This helps so much!

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  13. Brooke

    2014-04-30 04:32:38 -0500

    I'm happy I wasn't the only one crying while reading this! My eldest is 5 and in his second year of schooling and I've been paranoid ever since he started (because that's how I found out) that 'this' would be his last year. I still believe and had been thinking about going down that path but as you have with Simon there is a time to let them in. I love that you have shown this is a new chapter, not the end of it all (as I'd been dreading!!), and that there is still much fun and magic to be had.

    And thanks for sharing Chris. I take many life messages from reading here and what you and your extended family do and how you live is a huge lesson to everyone no matter your own set up.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  14. Katie Bolinger

    2014-04-30 07:05:26 -0500

    That was a great way to tell him. My son is also 11 and still believes but as an only child there is no helping necessary. Wish me luck in breaking the news to him.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  15. christine d

    2014-04-30 14:57:44 -0500

    The "secret" part is exactly how I approached that with my kids. The two older ones love to help hide things and even buy gifts at Christmas. They were very excited about that part so knowing the truth was fun and not devastating.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  16. Abby P

    2014-05-01 13:54:13 -0500

    I absolutely love this story!! The funny thing about being let-in on the secret is that some kids (mine - who are 22 and 18) STILL want the traditions to continue, which we do. NO presents under the tree till Christmas morning (yeah, it sucks staying up SO late to put them out, but it's only once a year...for a good cause)! We still do the advent calendar (items are hilariously suited for my boys' ages). And the first one up, runs and yells, "SANTA'S BEEN HERE! SANTA'S BEEN HERE!" Just being a grown-up doesn't been you have to let go of great traditions!

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  17. Monica A

    2014-05-02 01:17:57 -0500

    I've never been in this exact situation, since we've never hold up any of these secrets, but I had another kind of conversation with my 14 year old daughter who was sad that Christmas wasn't as magical anylonger as it was when ske was a child. So I told her that when you grow up you will have to find your own way of creating magic, finding what makes the trick for you, taking back Christmas, like Shimelle Lane did, which made her start her Journal you Christmas class.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  18. Amber

    2014-05-02 06:34:28 -0500

    This is so good. My parents were kind of extreme in convincing me Santa was real; every present was completely homemade, so I thought they must be telling the truth. My friends got store bought presents since they didn't believe but since I did I got the real goods (in my kid mind). I found some fabric used by my mom for one of the grits and it was devastating to me. I was older than simon and felt horrible. I decided to tell my kids the truth from the beginning, I never even thought about approaching it like this, I love it.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  19. Kathleen

    2014-05-02 16:28:38 -0500

    I wish that I had read about doing this years ago with my daughter. She was a true believer in Santa and was so sad for a long time when she discovered (on her own) that it he didn't exist. She told me that it was mean of grown-ups to give kids a Santa and then take him away. I will never forget it. I am so glad it went so well for Simon!

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  20. Stephanie Jones

    2014-05-05 00:14:48 -0500

    My son was the same age as Simon...almost 12. I milked it, I enjoyed it...I stretched it out. I got more years than so many of our friends. If he asked, I had a quick answer that obviously satisfied him and we were good to go. I had heard when they keep asking...it's time to talk truth. And I approached it as you..."you are in on the secret". So even tho he's an only child, it's a privilege to keep the secret from younger friends and help others with the joy!! You're a big boy now.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  21. Nina

    2014-05-05 09:26:23 -0500

    Love this. What a wonderful boy you have there! I broke the Santa news to my daughter a couple of years ago, just before she started middle school. I didn't anticipate her reaction well enough -- wish I would have had this to read back then! I knew she would be upset, but I didn't think she would take it as hard as she did. For her it was a mix of devastation and anger. I was relieved when her usual sense of humor returned. One afternoon as we were watching a silly show about Big Foot, I asked her if she believed Big Foot was real. She quickly answered that she did, but turned and glared at me and said, "Wait. You're not going to tell me you're Big Foot too, are you?" Ha. Ha. I'll be sure to keep Simon's story in mind for my grandchildren.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  22. Beth R.

    2014-05-06 03:45:45 -0500

    Be still my heart.I have tears. This is so sweet. Simon has the biggest heart of any boy... you all must be so proud of him. I have enjoyed reading the story of his life, and watching him grow over all these years. Thank you for sharing him with us Ali.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  23. mdlaslo

    2014-05-06 10:21:36 -0500

    Lovely story. However, just another reminder why I'm glad we never taught EB, Santa, etc., as real. "But what about the magic??!?!" There's PLENTY of magic in the love, the lights, the eggs, the songs, the spirit, the family, the togetherness w/o making pretend characters into something real. At least for our family.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  24. Madeline Rains

    2014-06-30 09:23:58 -0500

    Beautifully done! I told my son when he was eight because he was getting so involved in the details of how he thought Santa accomplished everything. His imagination was huge and fantastic. But he was asking me for confirmation and seemed to really want to understand. I was worried that the longer I let it go, the bigger the let-down. So I told him about Santa, which led to him asking about Easter and the Tooth Fairy, all on the same day. It was the worst day ever! Horrible disappointment and so many tears and I wish I'd waited. Believers are indeed wonderful and special.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
  25. Michelle

    2014-07-01 17:21:03 -0500

    Such a great story. A great way to handle it then him finding out by others. My kids are 26, 16 and 7. Littlest will be 8 right before Christmas this year. It has been hard carrying on the Santa secret for so long!! I will be sad though when it is gone because it really does add to the magic of the season. My older kids still get gifts from Santa. I don't think that will end even after my littlest figures it out (or we tell him). I will have to remember this.

    * edited 08/08/14 04:56PM
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