My daughters came home a few weeks ago and asked the question my husband and I knew was coming but never wanted to hear.
"Is Santa Claus real, Mommy?"
I'll admit that the first time my five-year-old popped the question last month, I panicked and deflected, "Oh, why do you ask, baby?"
"My friend at school said he is."
Moments later I spat out, "Ooh, listen! Our favorite song is on the radio."
The reprieve was short-lived. A few (short!) weeks later my younger daughter, three-years-old and every bit of a precocious middle child, blurted out on our way home from school one day, "Mommy, Santa isn't real."
I'd like to say that this time I was ready, that I had a well-thought-out response. The truth was very different.
Although my parents allowed my three siblings and me to believe in Santa Claus, my husband and I decided before we had children that we would not support the Santa story in our home.
Instead, we decided that we'd teach our little ones the truth of our faith: Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, God's son and the best gift any of us could and have ever received.
We decided that we'd tell them that in the spirit of celebrating God's gift to us, God blesses us to buy gifts for those we care for in a symbolic expression of love.
We opted not to tell our children that Santa was not real... we just focused on what was more important to us -- the story of Jesus' birth and why it remains such an important gift.
But, as beads of sweat peppered my brow in the silence that followed my daughters' statements, was that all of the planning in the world quickly falls by the wayside when tested by the persistent, inquisitive questioning of children.
In the days that followed, I took to Facebook to poll my mommy friends, motivated by one fear-inducing thought. I don't want my kids to be those kids.
As you might imagine, the feedback I got on Facebook was mixed. There were many parents in my boat -- "We aren't promoting the 'man down the chimney' myth either," one father responded.
But I also got a number of "passionate," (read: angry and snarky) responses from other parents instructing me to "fix it" so that my kid didn't "ruin Christmas for everyone."
I was struck by that term, "ruin Christmas."
How could I "ruin" a holiday established to celebrate the birth of Jesus by teaching my children that -- gasp -- the purpose of the holiday is to celebrate Jesus?
Sure, I understood what they meant, but I simultaneously felt bullied in a way I hadn't expected. I somehow had to go along with this myth to protect the practices and beliefs of other families while de-prioritizing the beliefs my husband and I were endeavoring to instill in our own.
How is that fair?
The answer is that it isn't. People of faith the world over are daily grappling with how to both walk boldly in the divine confidence of who our Creator has purposed us to be and to not make others uncomfortable. It is a tightrope one never quite masters but never quite quits either.
So while my husband and I stuck to our script, we added there are also families that celebrate the spirit of Saint Nicholas, a man who lived many years ago and gave gifts to orphans during this same time of year.
And we closed by saying that, ultimately, we are all believing the same thing: it is a much greater blessing to give and love on others than it is to receive.
My husband and I realize that "Santa" is inescapable (He knows when we are sleeping for goodness sake!). But we are undeterred, perhaps like Joseph who walked countless miles looking for a room for his pregnant wife to stay in and birth the Savior of all people.
We'll keep affirming our family truth fully expecting that our perseverance will birth great faith and a different -- yet equally beautiful -- type of wonderment in our children.
Just like the birth of baby Jesus has continued to do for generations.
We've chosen to stay on our tight rope and, we respect everyone else who walks the other.
In doing so we, I suppose, are giving a gift of understanding in a season where an appreciation for our fellow man is all that really matters.