I liked telling my kids about the real Santa Claus during the summer. That way it wasn't too traumatic and they had time to adjust to the idea by the time the next Christmas rolled around.
It pretty much went this way:
"I want to share a secret with you. I know who Santa Claus is. Santa Claus is anyone who shares gifts with people he loves. So, because your mommy and I love you so much, we're Santa Claus to you. You can become Santa Claus too when you give a gift to someone you love."
I don't remember when I figured out the truth about Santa. It was just one Christmas I believed and the next Christmas I was really excited because I knew who I really had to pump to get what I wanted.
One of my last memories of believing was when we had gone to spend Christmas with an aunt and uncle in Fort Worth. All the relatives were there, as I recall. I was asleep on the sofa in the living room and woke up in the middle of the night to see someone at the Christmas tree. Of course I thought it was Santa but thinking back on it he didn't have on a red suit and looked an awful lot like Uncle Moe, who was chubby but completely bald.
My wife was 12 when she had her last Christmas believing in Santa. When she told me this, I had a hard time not laughing. But we had just fallen in love and you don't laugh at the person who makes you all tingly and happy. After she figured it out, she cringed a little when she thought about how she had sat on the lap of one of her uncles dressed as Santa and giggled with excitement. Her two younger cousins, who already knew, sat there and looked at her incredulously.
However, I must admit, no one enjoys being Santa Claus more than my wife, which is a good thing, especially for me, even at age 62, on Christmas morning.
So this is the plan for all of you parents who have a child you think has reached the age that this should be the last Christmas in believing in the wonderful old legend.
Teach them the joy of being Santa Claus.
There are plenty of ways to do it. The Salvation Army of Hernando County, Love Your Neighbor, Jesus and Me Ministry, Daystar, YMCA School Age Program, Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots and many more groups are looking for donations for needy families. Take your child to a store and tell him or her that they are buying toys or good things to eat for children who don't have anything. Then let the child be the one to place the items in the box under a tree at the specific locations for these nice organizations.
Have your child sign a Christmas card and send it to the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Take your child and a few toys to a children's hospital in the Tampa Bay area. Let your child help you bake a bunch of cookies and take them to the Sheriff's Office, fire department, the staff in the emergency room of a local hospital. Let the people who serve us on all levels know that Santa comes in all sizes and ages.
Then one day next summer when thoughts of Christmas are far away, share the secret of Santa Claus with your growing young man or woman. Imagine their excitement when they discover they are actually Santa Claus and being Santa can be a whole lot of fun.
Jerry Cowling is a free lance writer living in Brooksville.