By Guest Blogger Laura Simon

The kids and I were out and about on Saturday, returning some (almost) overdue books to the library, and we drove past Santa on the side of the road. Literally. There he was in front of Lewisville Country Market, head-to-toe in red velvet with the best real, white beard, and he waved to us as we drove by.

“Mommy, he’s REAL!!!!!” screamed my six-year-old from the backseat.

“He WAVED TO ME!!!!” screamed my five-year-old.

“SAAAAAAATAAAAAA!” screamed my two-year-old.

Needless to say, we turned around.

Santa walked over to the porch as we pulled in, and the moment my toddler’s feet hit ground, she ran straight to him and climbed up in his lap. No screaming pictures for this one!  She playfully inspected his beard and his glasses and seemed mildly annoyed when I asked her to take a break and smile for a picture. She didn’t have a wish list because she doesn’t quite get that whole part of it, but she gratefully accepted her candy cane. She was utterly delighted; she knows Santa is special.

When she climbed down, my five-year-old was eagerly waiting his turn. He assured Santa that he had been good all year and that he took very good care of his little sister. Fortunately, Santa doesn’t require lie-detector tests.  Then he pulled a Ralphie and completely forgot everything on his wish list. Santa was patient, which is the benefit of finding him at a country market and not at the mall, and eventually my sweet boy remembered that he wanted a creature pod and a headlamp.  (“I forgot to tell him about the Lego football stadium,” he confessed later. “But I think he knows, don’t you?”)

My six-year-old was up next, and he did not crack under pressure. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he pulled out a typed, alphabetized list. He told Santa what he wanted, described it in great detail, and asked if Santa came with his reindeer or rode a horse, on account of a recent chapter in Little House on the Prairie. Santa assured him that he always travels with reindeer and even mentioned that he has a lot of dwarves the same size as his sister. Everyone stopped to ponder that one.

Now I did not grow up believing in Santa. My family joked about “Santa” filling my stockings, but I knew where my mom kept the presents I wasn’t supposed to see. I didn’t even try to snoop because I wanted to be surprised on Christmas morning. I don’t ever remember leaving out milk and cookies or trying to stay awake to hear reindeer on the roof. And believe me, the magic of Christmas was just as amazing for me as it was for my friends.

I intended to raise my kids the same way, but my husband had other plans, and since I really lacked a firm reason to ditch Santa, we kept him. I still definitely have misgivings and questions we’ll have to handle in the future. For example, at some point my kids are going to wonder why we sponsor children at Christmas and why Santa doesn’t visit them, even if they’re good. And while the “Santa is watching” threat is certainly convenient during the sugar-fueled month of December, the North Pole doesn’t exactly resemble the moral code we hope to instill in our children. We definitely celebrate the faith-based aspects of Christmas, and yes, Santa can kind of distract from that. And I know at some point there will be the letdown when they find out the truth.

But as I’m scrolling through the pictures I took of my kids that day, I’m glad we let the man in the red suit hang around. You should see my children’s faces when the look at him, oh my goodness.  You can’t fake that sparkle in their eyes. They only get one shot at childhood, at believing in magic and mystery, and darn it, I’m glad I didn’t take it from them.

So this Christmas Eve, I’ll be assuring my littles that I’m leaving the back door unlocked since we don’t have a chimney (although really, I won’t), I’ll be scarfing down cookies (why can’t we leave Santa wine instead of milk?), and I might even make some boot tracks on the living room floor. Because Santa gets to stay until my babies no longer hear the bell.

But that needy, creepy elf????  Not. A. Chance.