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December 14, 2011

Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy

Margaret Maron

Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined “poetic faith” as “that willing suspension of disbelief.” He was referring to the reader’s complicity in joining the writer in the writer’s imagined world, but it could also refer to the magical creatures of childhood, the ones the under-10 set believe in despite all the knowing smirks from classmates or older siblings.

Images-3Children so technologically savvy that they can reprogram the family’s telephones or figure out how to TIVO their favorite programs can also look up at you with worried eyes and wonder if the Tooth Fairy will find them should that wiggly tooth comes out while having a sleepover at Grandma’s house. (An emphatic yes!)

This is probably the last year our younger granddaughter will believe in her. Probably the last year for Santa Claus, too. It’s hard to ride a school bus and not have such beliefs shattered by the time you’re nine or ten. Images-7

I can remember believing in the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. Especially Santa Claus. I do NOT remember when I stopped believing, so it was not a traumatic event in my young life. An informal Images-1survey shows the same for most of my friends. One year they believed implicitly; the next year they did not, although one friend’s older brother told him he wouldn’t get any presents if he didn’t believe. “I was like the Cowardly Lion,” he told me. “Only instead of witches, I put myself to sleep those last few weeks of December chanting ‘I DO believe in Santa Claus, I Do believe in Santa Claus!’”

The worst reaction to hearing the truth came when a child in my extended family came to her mom in tears. Someone had told her there was no Santa and she demanded to know the truth. She didn’t want it sugar-coated. “Is there a Santa or isn’t there?” Images-4

Her mother explained it as gently as she could -- about the love that lets parents pretend, etc. The little girl was appalled. “No Santa Claus? No Rudolph? No elves at the North Pole?” She fled to her hidey-hole behind the couch in tears.    

A few minutes later, still sniffling, her small head poked up from behind the couch, “What about the Tooth Fairy?”

“I’m sorry, honey.”

More tears.

”And the Easter Bunny?”

Loud sobs from behind the couch upon hearing that the Bunny was make-believe, too. Then came a small trembling voice, “What about God?”

How did you learn the truth about the iconic myths? Was it traumatic for you or your children?


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Not traumatic at all for me.

Being the oldest of 3 kids, I think I was 7 or 8 when I figured it out,(Nancy Drew at heart, lol) esp. one Xmas Eve, after waking and hearing what sounded very much like my dad's voice and a few choice cuss words when he was putting things together in the living room to place near the tree. I pretended for a year that I still believed, just to not hurt my parents' feelings. (silly girl) But I didn't let on to my younger brothers. Made me feel sort of grownup.

Then, the next year (after my folks knew I was the only one who knew the Santa "secret", Tooth Fairy, etc.) my brother found out from friends at school and I told him not to tell our youngest bro, but he couldn't keep it to himself and had to blab. Our baby brother, who was only just 5 at the time was devastated and cried and cried! I felt so bad for him!

The good thing that came out of it was that we started being able to open stockings & presents from relatives & friends on Christmas Eve, and saved the "Santa" ones for Xmas Day! So we had 2 days of gifts and fun, and everyone was happy.

I think my folks were kind of relieved!

Also the oldest, of four, and it made me feel grown up to know and tell the littler kids. I was also such a snoop. One year I found our Christmas gifts where my mom had been hiding them all along. Who knew?

Our own kids believed in all the icons a long time, partly because they wanted to. When the youngest kept losing baby teeth and I kept forgetting to play Tooth Fairy, I had to resort to fairy excuse writing. I mean, by the third night there had to be some compensation for the heartache!

Did you know that fairies write very tiny, and in a circle on round pink paper? Honest.

What do you mean, there is no Santa Claus?

I don't think we ever believed in the Easter Bunny but I bought into the whole Santa magic and Tooth Fairy largesse. I wish I'd banked those quarters for lost teeth and invested them in growth funds to pay for the dental work I've needed in the last 10 years.

I don't remember when I stopped believing. I think it was a gradual realization and, thankfully, not traumatic.

I don't remember how I found out about Santa, so I guess it wasn't too traumatic. I do remember a friend of the family saying, "Paul has another year, so don't tell him!!"

This year my husband and I are trying to figure out how (or if) to start the Santa thing. (Our kids are only 1 and 2...) We're finding it weird to lie outright, but we don't want them to miss out on the magic, either... I appreciate my parents' subterfuge much differently now!

It was an early need to read that showed me the truth. I have a clear memory of standing by the Christmas tree holding a package with a tag, To: Carol From, Santa, and I recognized Mom's printing. Mom and I had been working on reading and writing for months. I would turn five a few days later. The present was a big book of stories. There was no trauma. Being able to read those stories myself was as magical as Santa Claus. And keeping the myth alive for my little brothers was magic too.

Lynn, I have a feeling that my older brother probably told me. Not to be mean, but because he couldn't keep such a delicious secret to himself...the power of knowing something I didn't know must have just made it burst out of him.

Karen, so funny. My younger g'daughter wanted her dad to try and rig a camera so as to take a picture of the Tooth Fairy. They settled on writing her a note and asking if she was really pretty. The TF wrote back, but I don't think it was a circular reply.

Oh, Kathy! So sorry. We should have put a filter on this posting for the under 10 in their hearts.

Paula, if you go the "No Santa" route, be prepared for the outrage of other parents when they disillusion their sandbox friends And remember that gifts from Santa don't have to be wrapped!

I'm with you, Mary Stella! Too bad there's no TF for those $500 extractions!

My mother told me just before I started first grade because she didn't want me to hear it from other kids or be teased because I believed. She must have done it gently because I don't even remember "the talk". And she cautioned me to not to be brutal and burst the bubble of my playmates and classmates who did believe.

Then, as I grew up, I came to understand that Santa is real. The spirit of Christmas is undeniable.

Aww...I don't remember, at all. Wish I did.

But I read this story in the NYT Metro Diary section, I think:

There was a father whose daughter caught him putting money under her pillow after she lost a tooth.
She opened her eyes,and he knew he was caught.
"Yes, I'm the tooth fairy," he told her.
She paused, thinking.
"Are you the tooth fairy just for me?" she asked. "Or for everyone?"

I never, ever believed in either one--no one had to tell me they weren't real, I just figured for myself it was a lot of nonsense--although when I was very young, my elders and I had fun around Christmas pretending that I did.

I was a pretty hard-boiled youngster.

I remember when I quit believing in the Easter Bunny. I was a very tall child and my mother was embarrassed that I still believed. She finally put a big chocolate bunny in the fridge and I figured it out.
Jeez, and I wanted to be an investigative reporter.

At our age...when you have a tooth problem it's at least a $500.00 one. Where's that fairy when you need them?

If it was in the Metro Diary, Hank, I missed it. Thanks for passing it along.

Poor Undine! You never shivered under the quilts, wondering if that was a pine cone that just touched down on the roof or Prancer's hoof? Never thought the pain of pulling that tooth all the way out was worth it for the TF's coins? Never hunted for an Easter basket? I think that trying to concoct different scenarios that would patch together the cracks that were undermining my belief may have contributed to my becoming a fiction writer.

Elaine, you make me laugh!

I had forgotten this until just now. When my oldest son was in Kindergarten the Principal caused all sorts of commotion, a near riot, when during a morning assembly he explained to kids that there wasn't a real Santa, it was parents. This was in a public school, 35 years ago. What was he thinking! Fortunately my son was enrolled in the afternoon session of K, so he missed the assembly and was innocent for one more year, at least.

As I told my kids, yes, I'd been lying to them about Santa. She was really a woman.

Seriously, to believe a man would go to all that trouble? Who are we trying to kid?

With apologies to the MOTB, but you know I'm right.

Oh, Hank, I love that story. Margaret, I love this post. I'm not sure I ever completely stopped believing . . . those mysteries are so alive. Donald Davis tells a wonderful story about still believing in Santa, and he tells it so carefully that little children in the audience do not suspect that there might not be a Santa to believe in
When my great-nephew was not really ready to disbelieve, bigger kids' comments sent him to his mother for answers. She tried the gentle "He's always real in your heart" reply, but he was sad. Our local news people (bless them) interviewed people at Lambert on Christmas Eve, coming off of a flight from Minnesota. Several claimed to have seen what looked like a sleigh and a driver in red. I videotaped it (had to move fast) and showed him that tape. "Minnesota is north, like the North Pole. There IS a Santa Claus!" It bought him a reprieve until he was ready to move on, and of course, coming from his storytelling aunt, it probably gave him a comfortable measure of doubt as well . . . we all need a little skepticism.

I think I quit believing the Christmas Eve two big boxes arrived and my mom and my Aunt Lou locked themselves in the bathroom for hours and hours. Aunt Lou ran out once, looking panicky, and said she needed some kind of wrench. When I asked what they were doing, she said dyeing their hair. When I asked what was in the boxes, she said hair dye.

The next morning, my mom's hair looked the same, my Aunt Lou's hair looked the same, but my brother and my cousin Ricky each had a new road racer (or something like that) that Santa apparently forgot to put together before he put them in the mail.

Since my father believed, among other things, that it was a form a lying, my parents made sure my brother and I knew Santa wasn't real. Growing up, our friends were jealous because, as part of this, we opened our gifts on Christmas Eve and then received small stocking gifts on Christmas Day. I guess the theory was that if we were convinced to believe in Santa, my parents would still get credit for the big gifts.

And my answer to the end of your story is, no not him either.
I do not remember when I learned that the tooth fairy was my mom, but even though I knew it was her I expected omniscience. I clearly remember losing a tooth just after I went to bed, sliding it under my pillow and being disappointed in the morning when no dime ( dating myself here!) appeared.

Margaret, that's a brilliant story and a hell of a punchline.

I'd like to hear how a LOT of people would answer that God question!

Each time I hear the "Christmas Song" and the lyrics "and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow" I dream along with my kids and my grandkids because each year I "listen" too. I want to believe, I want to believe, Santa!

I grew up in a real dysfunctional home where I parented my five younger siblings. I knew darn well there was no Santa. When our pastor met with Mom to find out what presents to buy for each kid w/ money a donor gave for that purpose, she told him to talk to me. I always wished I could have believed, though, so I went to great lengths to keep that belief (and the Tooth Fairy) for my little brothers and sister. Sometimes the Tooth Fairy had to leave an IOU for the dime, saying she'd give big sis the money later to give them.

My own kids believed, of course. I wanted them to have the childhood I never had. Once, someone at school tried to tell my oldest son there really was not Santa. he came home upset, and I said, "I'm telling you he's real. Who do you want to believe?" With relief, he went back to school and told the other kid, "Maybe you don't have Santa, but we do!"

I still believe.

When I was in third grade,we had just moved down the street from our old apartment. Some older kids in the neighborhood were talking about "helping" the younger kids continue to believe. That alerted me that maybe Santa was not quite real. I asked my mom and I told her why I wanted to know. She told me about St Nicholas and the origin of Santa Claus, but told me not to tell my younger siblings. Almost as an afterthought, I asked her if she and my dad were also the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny. I was really disappointed when she said Yes!

What continued to make Christmas special for me was that she and my dad allowed me to help them "be" Santa on Christmas Eve after the younger kids were asleep. Oh, my! This was so exciting! When we were done setting out all the gifts, tears were streaming down my face. My dad asked if I was okay. I smiled through my tears and said that I was just so happy to be able to help them. I think I had had an "aha" moment, seeing how much effort my parents put into making Christmas special for us all. I knew that they didn't have a lot of money and realized what a sacrifice it was for them to buy gifts for us. From that point on, my "job"was to make sure the younger kids kept believing. As each of the younger kids learned on their own about Santa and the Easter Bunny,etc, they joined in the conspiracy. Each younger child believed longer than the older ones did,so I guess we all did a antastic job!

A year earlier when I was in second grade and tryng to fall asleep on Christmas Eve so that Santa could come to our home, my bedroom lit up with the bright lights of Santa's sleigh! I forced myself to relax so I could fall asleep. The next day I told my parents about the lights from Santa.

I still believe that that's what it was.

The Princesses, being the Jews in the room have always known that Santa Claus was not real. They have also been warned to never tell their classmates. That is of course the sledge hammer for parents/teachers who get too preachy in December. Back off, or I kill Santa for the whole room. I'm guessing that I don't have many more years left on that one.

The girls dearly love the tooth fairy. I have the most wonderful picture Princess One drew of her. I will hate to see her go. Her "helper" almost got caught one year. I was at work and forgot to help out the tooth fairy until sunrise. Come to think of it, Princess Two may be wise. The tooth fairy leaves dollar coins. She trades daddy for paper dollars. Nobody likes those coins!

I just realized I left out the "not" in my first post above. As in, it made me feel grown up to know and "NOT" tell the littler kids.

I'm 10 years older than my youngest brother. Our dad died with I was almost 18, and that Christmas was a bad one. My mom worked, but it was 1969 and women made hardly anything, certainly not enough to support herself and four kids. I was working to put myself through college, and I had some savings, so I took it upon myself to make sure each of my siblings had some kind of gift under the tree. All I remember buying: a basketball for the brother who was five years younger.

We tend, sometimes, to "need" things that aren't really necessary to our survival. But having a little something under the tree on Christmas morning can make a world of difference.

A couple of years ago at Falmouth I was at a family gathering, a sort of Irish diaspora style party for a life-long friend. He'd died suddenly at his home in Georgia, so his family wanted to remember him up north at "the house on the Cape."

The last time I'd seen any of his family, we'd just been discovered on his parents' living room floor . . . um . . . having fun. The next thing I knew I was back in Boston with Grandmother Harrington.

There is a tooth fairy story here. Promise.

So there we were overlooking the water at Falmouth, Irish flag flying, lots of beer, lots of food, talking about all those memories we had in common. It was a sad occasion for getting together but a really good time. I was standing under the flag pole with a small group of old friends I hadn't seen since that night on the floor in Marblehead, when I noticed a short line forming to my left. My thought was that I'd been mistaken for one of his sisters, and I started to move away from the receiving line.

I promise - there really is a tooth fairy story here.

The little line, now a little longer, followed me. I had no choice but to find out what was up. I said hello to the first woman in line and introduced myself. She hugged me and said she'd always wanted to meet me. She was his widow. We'd never met . . . and, "Were you the one? Was it you?" [I was scared, and said no. But it was me.]

We talked for awhile, and the line got longer. I kept trying to direct people to his family, but the line was his family. It was so strange! Um, it went something like this: Do you remember the hurricane that year in Marblehead? [Yes] When you two snuck out? [Yes] Did you really go over to Crocker Park and watch boats get tossed around? [Yes] Is it true that Mr. Herreshoff called the police, because you two were "sleeping" in one of his boats? [No . . . um . . . but we were "sleeping" in one of his boats.] Is it true that you two put pot in the coffee pot? [No. Well . . . yes, but we'd turned it into a chocolate pot.] Did you two really "borrow" Sheldon Brown's tandem bicycle and hide it in The Rook? [No. We borrowed it to ride in the Horribles Parade, but we saw Sheldon's mother, so we stuck it in her antique shop.] Were you the one . . .

OK. Now the tooth fairy story!

His baby sister the real celebrity in the group (a newspaper reporter in Boston) was last in line. Do you remember? Were you the one? When I was in my bedroom looking for the money the tooth fairy left? My tooth was gone, but there was no money? [I did] And you walked over to the window and said you found it? [Yes] "Well, I jut wanted you to know that i finally figured out it was you who put it on the window sill. I wanted to say thank you. It was such a nice thing to do."

"How did you know it was me?"

"Haha! You said, 'Fuckin' Fairy must've been too drunk to find your pillow, so she left it over here.' Besides, it was a quarter. And the tooth fairy never left more than a dime in our house."

Reine, what a great story. And Ramona, you made me laugh out loud with the hair dye.

I was the youngest of 9, but I don't remember finding out about Santa/Tooth Fairy/Easter Bunny. Though my mother says my older brother told me about Santa when I was about 5, and she was furious.

Karen, when I was little I lost a tooth in the playground across the street. I fell off the slide onto the gravel below (can you imagine gravel in a playground now?) and the tooth came out and I couldn't find it. My older sister wrote me a teeny tiny note for the Tooth Fairy, explaining what happened. I don't believe it was circular, though.

My daughter never admitted to finding out there was no Santa. I still have no idea when or how she knew. I just assumed at some point when she was 12 or 13 that it was over, lol. She's 22 now - maybe she still believes. :)

Fun blog, Margaret - I'm enjoying the stories.

Reine, what a great story!!! You must have been a pistol back in the day. Aw hell, you still are, lol.

Deb, what a sweet story! The sad part about having only one child is that it all ends too quickly & abruptly! My younger sister is 10 years younger. It was so much fun helping to keep the belief alive. Until my brother, just one year behind me, tortured her with that knowledge. It was testosterone poisoning even back then.

I love the stories too. My mother loved to relate the stories of St. Niklas from her childhood, so there was a lot of talk of coal and oranges (mostly coal) at my house. We celebrated Hannukah, but the kids were not impressed, and they just knew that we brought parents and relatives brought presents. Now the grandkids were taught to believe in Santa, and that we brought presents because we loved them. Frankly, I think it's all about the presents for them-they are are all American consumers. As to the Question of God-now there's a discussion I'd like to see. They're still young:)

Sorry, Alex and Lil. Not goin' there.

Such sweet stories. And what a wake that was, Reine!

Ah, Linda, I'm guessing no one messed with you when you laid down the law.

And I'm sorry, Alan, he may have started as a Christian saint, but I truly believe that Santa Claus is non-denominational. I know he visits a lot Jewish homes -- even those that don't have a fireplace. Ho-ho-ho!

I don't know when I knew or figured it out but my family kept up the Santa illusion until we were all adults . . . If we ever wanted to give a little extra something to someone we just signed the gift tag from Santa.

Since I generally don't get presents at all anymore, kinda hard to keep up the Santa illusion!

I do remember one year when I was 7 or 8, sister and I found the present stash in a closet and did some peaking at presents. Christmas morning was such a huge let down that I haven't ever peaked at presents since.

Reine, keep those stories coming!

Aw, Laura, that was so sweet of your sister.

I'm pretty sure our youngest daughter became extra sure there was no Santa the Christmas that my husband FORGOT where he hid their presents at his office. (It's an old house, full of nooks and crannies, and major piles of stuff.) He had to take her over there to help him find them.

And yes, that's the last time I let him take charge of presents. See, Santa really is a woman. ;-)

Karen, too funny!

Thanks all. xo

Karen, I think you win. I myself buy gifts all through the year and stash them in different places. Embarrassing to find two years later what would have been the perfect g'daughter gift had I come across it at the right time.

I have spent the past two years trying to locate a gift that I put away in a safe place. It was intended for my niece/godchild, whose name, by the way,is Margaret. (So you KNOW that she is a special person!) I have NO idea why I felt the need to hide it away. I mean, I live alone, for heaven's sake! The only thing I can thiink of is that she and her family were going to be around for part of Thanksgivig weekend and I decided that I shouldn't leave it out. Well, anyway, we are coming up on the third Christmas since I put it in a safe place, she's graduated from middle school, she's been confirmed, she has had a couple of birthdays, her Aunt Deb is still thoroughly in the dark as to where that gift is . And it's such a nice one! Because I have not been able to find it, I've been giving her gift cards for bookstores instead. Not really a bad alternate choice, I suppose!

Deb, this is precisely why I now have a file on my hard drive titled "Where Things Are." I hid my engagement ring once because I didn't want to wear it abroad. It was a good 6 months before I finally found it. Now I keep all presents stashed in a box in the bottom of a cabinet in my office. Everything in one place.

It's really nice to know I'm not alone in putting things in a place safe enough that not even I can find them!

Aww. What happened to her was sad. Children must be allowed to enjoy the magic while they are young. As they grow older, they will eventually arrive at the realization that tooth fairies and Santa aren't real. But until then, I say let their imaginations run wild.

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