I'm in the Christmas section of Target with my son when he strikes up a conversation with a random guy. The man asks him, "Is Santa coming to your house this year?"
My son switches from animated to visibly uncomfortable. He looks down at the ground. "No," he mumbles.
"No? Why not?" asks the incredulous stranger. The boy doesn't answer. He doesn't know what to say.
"We don't do Santa," I tell him. Then, I feel compelled to add, "But he still gets presents!"
Our new friend walks away without a word.
We do celebrate Christmas, sort of. We're atheists, but I was raised Catholic. The one childhood Christmas memory that really stands out is when I found out about Santa. I don't remember how I found out, but I remember hiding behind the drapes, crying hysterically. I wasn't sad because I'd "lost" Santa, or fearful that I'd receive fewer gifts. I was devastated that every single person I knew had been lying to me for my entire life (maybe that's why, years later, The Truman Show hit so close to home).
When I grew up and started my own family, I took the parts of Christmas that I liked and cobbled them into my own Secular Winter Gift Holiday. We watch A Christmas Story, but we have no Elf on the Shelf. We have lights outside, but no manger. We pile gifts under a tree, but the "from" tags all bear names of actual people.
Here in Massachusetts, most people are willing to forgive the atheist thing, but skipping Santa is akin to child abuse. I've had more than one coworker actually yell at me about it. Let me reiterate: multiple adults in a professional setting have become consumed with rage when I told them of my plans to not lie to my kid.
"Oh, heavens to Murgatroyd, you've stolen his innocence!" Dial it down, honey. I'm not buying him porn and heroin for Christmas.
I think that most of the people who take issue with my choice aren't truly concerned for my son's well-being; rather, they feel that I'm judging them. "Wait, are you calling me a liar?" No, not exactly. But you are lying. And that's okay. I'm reasonably certain that your kid will be fine. I'm not a serial killer, and I still love my mom. It's not my place to tell you how to raise your kid, any more than it's your place to tell me how to raise mine.
Yes, I've robbed him of the "magic of childhood." But I've given him a few more things in the process.
He knows that his gifts were a result of his parents' hard work, so he has no sense of entitlement.
He knows that nobody is watching his every move, so he behaves because it's the right thing to do, not in exchange for a reward.
And in place of magic, he has something far greater: a thirst for knowledge. He understands that there's an answer for every question, a cause for every effect, and that if you want something, you must act rather than wish.
I'd say that's a pretty good trade-off.
Oh, and one more thing: Justin Bieber's mom didn't do Santa, either. And look how he turned out! Wait. Don't.
This piece originally appeared on In the Powder Room.