Santa Claus is a myth we don't want to let go of. Even when our children ask us point blank if there's really a Santa Claus, we find a way to put off the inevitable.

It just happened to my sister-in-law, Flo. Her 8-year-old daughter, Montana, came home from school and said, "Jamie says there really isn't a Santa Claus. Are you and Dad Santa Claus?"Not wanting to lie, she still couldn't quite bring herself to tell the truth.

"What do you want for Christmas this year?" she asked her daughter.

"A CD player!" Montana said.

"Well, you don't think Mom and Dad would ever buy you a CD player, do you?" Flo countered.

"No-o-o," Montana said, hope beginning to register in her eyes. "I knew Jamie was lying!"

"That's right," Flo affirmed, "only Santa Claus would get you a CD player."

"Why didn't you tell her?" I asked Flo.

"I don't know," she said. "I guess I just wanted her to have one more Christmas that she believed."

There's no denying the sense of wonder and excitement when children first see their Christmas presents under the tree, but I find myself struggling with what is the right age to tell children the truth behind Santa. Already my 4-year-old has started firing questions at me with the precision of a research scientist.

"How can reindeer fly?" she says.

"Aaahhh . . . Santa teaches them how," I tell her.

"How does Santa fit down the chimney?" she asks 10 minutes later.

"Aaahhh . . . it's magic," I say, and wince, waiting for her disbelief. But I've forgotten that magic is a sound concept for a 4-year-old.

"How does Santa make all those toys?" she wants to know.

I'm ready for that one. "He has elves that help him."

"Oh," Lyzie says. For a while, she's satisfied.

But I'm confused. I can't figure out why I want so badly for her to hold onto this myth. How far will I go to keep the truth from her?

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"Mom, where does Santa Claus get all the money to make the toys?"

"There's a lot of gold up in the North Pole where he lives, so he's rich."


Apparently pretty far.

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