When you’re 8 years old, reality starts to shift. That’s the age I was on a Saturday afternoon in the kitchen with my mother, dying Easter eggs in pastel shades. Evidently I was talking about the candy I expected from the Easter Bunny, because when my 5-years-older sister walked into the room, she asked, incredulously, “You don’t still believe in the Easter Bunny, do you? That’s make believe, just like Santa Claus.”
BOOM! With one casual comment, she took out two childhood icons and then marveled at my stupidity. I believe I cried.
My son was about the same age when he started asking whether Santa Claus was real. Not wanting to offer full disclosure, I told him that the idea of Santa Claus — giving to others — was very real. To that he replied, “Not the idea of Santa. The guy in the red suit! Is he real?” At that point I became child psychologist, asking, “What do you think?” But I knew that for him the magic of Santa Claus soon would be gone.
Reality set in for my daughter at that age as well, when she lost a tooth and the Tooth Fairy did not leave any coinage under her pillow. (Her father and I had forgotten to take on tooth fairy duty the night before.) She came to us the next morning, upset and entreating, “Why do parents lie to their children?” Not only had she come to grips with the reality behind the Tooth Fairy, she then made the leap to Santa and the Easter Bunny.
Why do we carry the bunny, the fairy, and the guy in the red suit with us from one generation to the next? Because it’s fun to spread the joy, whether with candy, money, or presents. Because even if we vividly remember when we stopped believing, we also remember how good it felt when we still believed. So we tell the stories and enjoy the make believe for however long it lasts. We know there will be plenty of time later to deal with reality.