Sevilla found out this week that Santa Claus doesn't exist. I think the exact way she phrased it was "Does Santa Claus exist, or is it just your mom and dad?"
I tried to walk the middle ground. To explain that yes, it is her parents that buy those gifts, but it is for the love of Christmas and the child and the joy of giving. I explained the history of Santa and St. Nicholas and of the kindness and goodwill in his heart. I spoke of tradition and the magic of the season.
She wasn't having it.
She went through all five stages of loss:
Denial: "I can't believe it! It was you guys all along? What about all that stuff about the long white beard?"
Anger: (not so much a vocalization as a silent smolder)
Bargaining: "Just tell me he exists. It's OK Mom, I'll believe you."
Depression: (sustained, chronic wailing)
Acceptance: "Can I help hide the gifts next year?"
Before confessing the truth, I asked if one of her friends at school had been talking about it - I have always presumed that this would be the way she would find out. She said no but she had already suspected it, and greater than her fear of what the truth might be was her fear of not knowing, and of putting her own children to bed on Christmas Eve then retiring herself, confident in the knowledge that Santa would visit, only to find in the morning that there were no presents - the thought of having to face this and see her own children crying and disappointed was more than she could bear. She told me this while sobbing.
At that point I had taken her in my arms and gently told her there is no Santa, or rather, that Santa is all of us - and now she gets to play Santa too, and what a wonderful thing that is to do for someone.
I asked her if she would have rather known the truth all along. She said no, which surprised me, but also made me glad. After all, her 6-year old brother is still a devoted believer, and something tells me he will take it even harder than his sister when it's his turn to learn.