The Slow Goodbye to Santa

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This isn’t really travel related, but it is very parent related, so if you are into that sort of thing, read on.

I love Santa Claus just about as much as I love travel. I love the idea of magic, of giving, of mystery, unanswered questions, of surprise, delight, belief, happy children, anticipation and all that surrounds the legend of Santa. I loved Santa as a child, and I don’t remember a specific turning point when I went from a recipient of his gifts to being one of his team members who helps spread Christmas joy to others. That transition obviously happened, though not in an abrupt or cataclysmic moment, but rather in a magical and gentle shift throughout the years that was so natural I can’t even remember it.

Mommy Points and Santa in the 80’s


My first daughter was born just before Christmas almost eight years ago, and in fact, she came home from the hospital for the first time on Christmas morning where she was promptly placed into a stocking. She didn’t get a chance to visit Santa that year, but has faithfully every other year since.

In fact, on many years we have turned it into a pilgrimage to see the real Santa at one of the spots he visits where he can see the most children, which of course is often at Macy’s on 34th Street in NYC though we have also encountered him at some other unexpected spots along the way.

At Christmastime, our mantle is over-filled with the now eight and counting annual framed photos with Santa and our children. The last three photos have both of our girls pictured, and in only one of those photos is our youngest screaming her lungs out. It’s okay though, I imagine it is overwhelming to take in the magic of Santa as a one-year-old.

This year our oldest, now an almost eight-year-old, visited Santa just as we have every other year. She asked for a gift, “anything Harry Potter”, this time around. In previous years the big request has been for gifts that have varied from  “squishy pony toys” (that was actually a very tough order), an iPad, a drum set, Paw Patrols, and a variety of other assorted treasures.

This year, she smiled for the photo and she made her annual request, but some things were ever so slightly different. When Santa was walking up the hall to take his seat and start visiting the boys and girls she didn’t even bother to turn around to see him arrive despite us hooting like Buddy the Elf that “Santa was coming!”. She wasn’t in awe of his soft red suit and shiny black books as they drew near. She wasn’t visibly nervous or excited to talk to him.

She was, however, a fantastic big sister to her slightly nervous little sister when she needed the courage to ask for her much anticipated gifts, a Batgirl toy and a Blaze and the Monster machines. It was a good visit with Santa, but it wasn’t surrounded by quite as much build-up and anticipation for my strong and beautiful second grader as it had been in the past.

Over the weekend we had our extended family Christmas at my aunt’s house. She has special North Pole connections and had arranged for Santa to do a drop-by to visit with the kids. I had no idea it was possible for Santa to do a home visit, so I thought this would be very exciting. We had of course already visited him this year, but there’s no such thing as too much Santa, so when he arrived almost everyone was very excited.

My cousin’s kids, ages 5 and 3 were happy to see and talk to him, and my 2-year-old has now seen him enough this year to be happy instead of afraid, which was great. However, my oldest daughter needed some coaxing to go say hello. She wasn’t unhappy that he was there, she just wasn’t as enthralled as you might imagine a kid to be when Santa unexpectedly walks in the room just a few days before Christmas.

When she did ultimately pay him a visit, she had a number of questions, and none of them were about which games the reindeer are playing, or his favorite type of cookie, or how the scout elves were doing this year. No, her questions were more interrogative in nature. She wanted to know exactly how it is possible to visit all of the house around the world in one night. I mean, let’s be real, she knows it takes eight hours just to fly from here to Europe on a jet without any stops along the way. Even with some help of shifting time zones, she knows it is a stretch to get it all done in a night.

She seemed satisfied enough with his skillful answers to her questions, but I imagine some questions still remain. As I started wrapping gifts today and had to be extremely strategic about which tags, wrapping paper, and even handwriting are used for the Santa gifts vs. those from us, it didn’t feel that magical. It felt a little bit more like another task or chore that kind of made my brain hurt. In my mind, magic doesn’t rely on an alternate handwriting style. I wonder if for her visiting Santa is starting to feel less like a magical event and more like a perfunctory task the way that sorting and wrapping the gifts did for me.

I imagine that if she were to board the Polar Express this year she would still hear the silver bell ring, but perhaps not as loudly as she did in years past. She now has a mind full of questions, logic, and skepticism to go along with the joy, belief, and magic.

She still looks for our scout elf, Chippy, each morning. I imagine milk, cookies, and reindeer food will still be set out. I’m sure she will listen desperately for the sound of reindeer holves on the roof on Christmas Eve, and will happily tear through the very meticulously organized presents on Christmas Morning. Santa will come this year as he has in years past, but I can’t help but notice that we are probably starting our long, slow, goodbye to the Santa that she has known since she was placed in a stocking at just 48 hours old.

Thankfully, in this family, we never truly say goodbye to Santa. We simply get to say hello to another version of the legend, one in which we get to take an active role in helping him spread joy to others, including her younger sister who is just beginning her magical relationship with all things Santa.

The magic is real, the excitement is real, the giving is real, the smiles are real, and in all of the important ways, so is my Santa. I’ll be sad in some ways when my first born says goodbye to the Santa of her childhood, but I’ll be happy to have her join me in helping the Santa of the rest of her life.


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  1. It saddens me when I see airports like SeaTac that have erased all vestiges of Christmas because of political correctness gone crazy. Then you have airports like DCA that arent afraid to really deck the place out. What a shame this country is becoming

    • UHHH, I think this comment is a bit off topic…

      And Christmas is alive and well. As an actual Christian, I have no problem with not having Christmas put upon others of other faiths or no faith at all. Happy to make my church look like a pagan forest, light my advent wreath, and be a deacon in the church in the privacy of our own spaces. Don’t think its indicative of a larger problem or political correctness gone awry, just not spending money on one holiday over others.

      But her point is that her daughter may be doubting Santa, not that Christmas is dying…

    • couldn’t agree more. Why we can’t say ” Marry Christmas” anymore just because some of the other religious group don’t celebrate it? That is one of the problem when a country run by left wing too long.

      • Maybe it is regional, but Merry Christmas has always been alive and well where I am both when I lived in NYC, in Austin, and now near Houston… all of which have very different political climates. It is religious based in origin, but I know plenty of non-religious people the other 11 months out of the year who go all-out for Christmas. I say Happy Holidays sometimes, especially if I know I’m addressing a group who celebrates a variety of holidays, but that doesn’t exclude Christmas. Heck, NYC is def a left-leaning city with a large non-Christian population and it goes all out for Christmas more than any other US city I have visited.

      • I agree! we are Hindu but celebrate Christmas and the holidays and have no problem with others wishing us a “Merry Christmas” or saying it to others!

  2. Wow!!! You have no idea how much everything you wrote relates to our family. In a nutshell, this is the first year our older son will spend Christmas knowing Santa doesn’t really exist. He said to us he was flad we were open to him but at the same times he feels a bit disappointed. We told him that it is not about Santa being real or not but about keeping the magic of this really special time of the year where we celebrate all things that happened to us and we give thanks. It is up to us to keep that magic alive. On the same hand he is playing the big brother in the most amazing way making sure his little brother keeps believing in Santa and living this magic moment for as long as he can.

  3. As the mom of an in-the-know 10yo and a strongly believing 8yo, I’m there with you. My daughter is focused this year on helping to make the magic for her little brother and toddler cousin. And as a family we are taking the opportunity to focus more on giving to others than what we might want for ourselves.

    Santa tends to bring things. My traveling kids are shifting more toward experiences. Which is kind of what a travel blog like yours tends to be about.

    Thanks for sharing your traveling Mom perspective. Just ignore the Grinches.

  4. Ha Toykyo is a grinch.
    That said, my Mom always told us when we …..stopped believing in Santa, he would sto coming….Hence we always believed…I told my kids the same thing…they still believe and love those checks at Christmas.

  5. Look on the bright side, your daughter is developing critical thinking skills and deductive reasoning skills, and able to figure out when she is being lied to. If you ask me, this is a far better outcome than the inverse…

  6. Growing up poor (and of color in the ghetto), I never believed in Santa Claus the character. But I did come understand the symbolism of Santa when I learned the real meaning of Christmas. I picked that up on my own very early on (pretty sure I was less than five at the time) but it was necessary for my very logical young mind to reconcile it with my reality.

    How do you explain to a poor child why their wishes did not come true even though they were good all year? Someone tried and it made no sense to me.

    While it may sound Grinch like, I get the point of the person who says that it might not be best to present Santa as many do today. You may agree or not (the other view might rain on your parade that you do not want to end), but you should pause for a moment to consider other thought processes before immediately dismissing them. There is probably a win-win somewhere if we would just start listening to each other and not immediately resorting to name calling and dismissal.

    PS – The original grinch cartoon is a great story (his heart changed).

  7. Great comments and discussion, as usual. I don’t think there is any one right or wrong way to approach the holidays and Santa. It is clear which path my family has chosen, but I’m sure it isn’t the only “good” path out there. Santa isn’t a cruel joke in my world, but you do get to learn more about how the magic of the holidays actually happens as you get older. That is a gift to become a part of that, just as it is a gift to be visited by ‘Santa’ as a child. Santa becomes symbolic for taking the time to listen to others, help, and spread joy, and there’s nothing but good in that in my view. Santa adds magic and mystery to the equation, but it’s good people doing good things that makes it all work.

    My daughter transitioning from one phase to the next is sad in a ‘time flies’ sort of way, but I am grateful for her mind and her kindness that make this an easy transition at the right time. She’s still kid enough to enjoy the magic this year, but she’s wise enough to have her foot in the next world, too.

    True story that was happening pretty much at the same time that I was writing this… Weeks ago found a family on Facebook in a Hurricane Harvey group who was impacted by the hurricane and still very much in need with presents for the holidays. A few weeks ago we (along with the help of others – some of them Mommy Points readers), sent gifts for the three children ranging from shoes to clothes to toys. Then just yesterday the mom contacted me and said her eight-year-old daughter that normally lives with her dad would unexpectedly be joining them for the holidays. She had nothing for this little girl and at this point probably wouldn’t be able to come up with anything if we didn’t help. The family is on the verge of being evicted, so there really is nothing extra. She asked not expecting me to be able to do anything, but she had to try. I’ll admit to not being initially thrilled with ‘adopting’ another kid at this juncture when time and budgets are pretty much expired, but I didn’t tell that to her. I told her we would help. I posted to my FB friends to see if any could join the project, and a couple graciously did just that.

    My oldest daughter had just had a birthday party and I knew she received a $25 Target gift card, among other $10’s and $20’s that she has stashed away. Between her birthday and Christmas, she doesn’t need anything else right now, so I planned to ask her if she would help out with some of her gift card. I started to tell her this story just as I told it here and before I could get even close to the part where I was going to ask if she wanted to help, she disappeared. I was about to get mad that she ran off while I was talking to her, but then she reappeared with her wallet in hand. She said, I have $90, is that enough to help this girl?

    She didn’t say “isn’t Santa bringing her presents” or “why do we have to help” or “that’s my money”. She ran off to get everything she had before I could even ask for her help. In the end, she had no problem donating her $25 Target gift card to go towards the dancing Baby Groot this eight-year-old wanted. The toy was actually $30 and C insisted in paying the other $5 with cash as she wanted to buy the whole thing. I didn’t stop her. She is already becoming Santa.

    • Gah, Summer!! What a kiddo. This is the magic that keeps on giving. Well done, mama and C.

      I wish I could post a picture on your site, but you’ll have to just create the image in your mind. My 11 year old has never come out and said he doesn’t believe, and I think he has done that because of his younger sister. But he loves Christmas so much, he has declared that you’re never too old to say hello to Santa. And in the way only a middle schooler with complete confidence can, he wore a polyester green and red Christmas tree suit for the visit. So we may not have the same magic, but I’d say we still have tons of the joy and jolly of the season. I’m pretty confident that Santa and Elf on the Shelf are not the reasons why my kids will need therapy in their twenties and thirties. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    • What a wonderful story – thank you for sharing. You should be very proud to have such a kind and generous daughter. Renews my faith in mankind! Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all!

  8. We did not come from a family of physical wealth but we were, we are, so rich in the grand traditions of Christmas. I proudly include Santa Claus in that treasure chest of wonder. To me, Santa represents a unique personification of hope, dreams, whimsy, youth, happiness, bright lights, bold colors, cheerful music, giving and love. It is fine with me that this persona manifests itself in a red velvet suit and a fluffy white beard because the intended result is only an effort to do good and to make other lives richer and more rewarding. Christmas and Santa have for 69 years brought my life excitement, anticipation and joy. This dynamic twosome turns the mundane into magical and the ordinary into special. I feel privileged to have been raised in this belief, to have nurtured and extended it to the next generations and to have successfully passed this seasonal torch on as bright and as strong as it was passed to me. Little C., we welcome you to the next level of believing. You fit right in.
    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

  9. Outstanding post and discussion! Happy times to all in this season focused on generosity, delight, compassion & tenderness! A time to remember who we can consistently be for each other when we surrender to the core of our best selves.
    Loved this, MP!!!

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