I was in second grade when I found out that Santa Claus did not exist. I was in the library, leafing through books, when two of my peers started whispering. Being a seven-year-old girl, I naturally wanted in on their secret. They caught on (let's call them Girl #1 and Girl #2), gave each other wide stares, and turned their attention to me.
"Santa Claus isn't real," said Girl #1, hands on her hips. "You probably still thought he was."
Girl #1 was never very nice.
Girl #2 nodded. She clearly too had thought that Santa Claus did in fact exist, and that he was up at the North Pole overseeing proper present and coal distribution into his sleigh at that exact moment. But, as many do, the mean girl prevailed.
"Yeah, Audrey," Girl #2 said meekly, "I found out forever ago. We just didn't know if you were grown up enough to handle the truth."
But, the fact of the matter was--and, in many ways still is--I was in no shape or form ready to be slapped in the face with the truth. Because in hearing the words "Santa Claus isn't real," I felt the magic of Christmas crumble around me. It was as if somebody had shut off all of the Christmas lights. In that moment, elves and flying reindeer and Santa's workshop broke down into a tiny million pieces, fell to my feet and were washed away with my next words.
"I know. I've known for a really long time. I found out last year," I lied. Mean Girl #1 had already crushed my Christmas Spirit and she was not going to crush my pride too. As I walked away from them and into the school hallway, I let out a shaky breath. Santa isn't real. Santa Claus is not real, played on repeat in my head for the rest of the day.
When I went home that afternoon, I said not a word to my parents. And I never did. Since that day I've been stuck between knowing the truth but wanting to believe the unreal. With this nonacceptance, I have never properly mourned the loss of Santa Claus from my life.
Instead, I've spent my time trying to find the magic that Santa brought in other ways. At first, this was no easy task. How does one replace the utter joy of Santa Claus? For many children, Christmas is built upon a foundation of being labeled as naughty or nice. It's about believing in a man that flies through the sky with nine reindeer in a sleigh full of presents for the entire world. It's about putting out cookies and milk (and carrots for the reindeer, too) in a small act of thanks for the generosity of a jolly old man that bestows complete strangers with their most coveted possessions. For children, Christmas is about magic. Pure, happy, unfiltered magic.
So, naturally, you lose a little bit of your childhood when you find out that Santa Claus doesn't exist. Personally, my belief system was crushed. It was as if my childhood was a balloon full of hope and magic and Girl #1 & Girl #2 untied the knot that held everything in. On that fateful day, hope and magic began their process of dissipation from my life.
But as a girl who holds onto anything that has ever brought me happiness, I've never fully let go of that magic. It's why I've never fully said goodbye to Santa Claus. He may not actually exist, but Christmas Spirit does. And at Christmas time, the magic in my life is slightly rekindled. I take that glimmer of hope and run with it.
I fill my days with scratchy old recordings of Bing and Frank singing about warm fires and glistening snow. I get excited at the sight of every single Christmas tree I see. Our family spends time reminiscing over Christmas ornaments. Garrett and I dress our poor old dog up in reindeer costumes. I make a point of watching Love Actually, The Family Stone, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and The Santa Claus every year. We make gingerbread houses and decorate Christmas cookies. We sing Christmas carols. We get excited to give. Most of all, we get excited to be together, to do all of the above together. Because in one another, the Christmas Spirit comes alive.
Santa may not be real, but his cheer does exist. It's in all of us, if we want it to be.