It happens sooner or later for every kid: Someone spills the beans about Santa Claus. In 2011, Elizabeth Weingarten confessed that in third grade, she revealed the truth about Santa to a classmate. Out of guilt, she tracked down her young friend to make sure she hadn’t ruined Christmas forever. The original piece is reprinted below. Also, read Stephen Tobolowsky on discovering that Santa isn’t real.
On Nov. 29, exactly 26 days before Christmas, a Chicago TV news anchor and a second-grade teacher in New York revealed the truth behind one of society’s most pervasive lies. The anchor broadcast the painful facts on the 9 o’clock news; the teacher broke the news to her students during a geography lesson. The anchor was deluged with irate responses and apologized for her “callous” act on-air the following evening. The teacher’s words caused “a blizzard of outrage” at George W. Miller Elementary School, where her actions are now being “addressed internally.”
What, exactly, was the appalling crime of these two women? They both denied the existence of Santa Claus. Now, they’re paying for it.
I feel their pain.
I was 8 the first—and only—time I spoiled Santa for a believer. My parents had come clean about the Santa myth to me a year or two earlier because I was offended that the jolly geezer didn’t care about me, a Christmas carol-singing Jew from the northern Chicago suburbs. Why did he only leap down the chimneys of my Christian friends? What had I done to deserve this prejudicial treatment? My parents finally cracked, and I was relieved. My friends weren’t more special than me after all!
I knew, of course, that most kids my age were not privy to this knowledge. Possessing the secret made me feel deliciously superior. I understood the cruel, complicated world a little better than my third-grade buddies. Unfortunately, my newfound sophistication didn’t enhance my secret-keeping abilities.
During one December art class, groups gathered around long, paint-splattered tables, coloring with broken crayons and chewed markers. I had somehow snagged a spot at a table with the popular third-grade girls. One of them, Jacqueline, was decorating a letter she’d written to Santa Claus.
Why was she wasting her time with correspondence for an imaginary man when she could be drawing something productive, like a half-person, half-dragon? (I loved drawing those.) Should I tell her what I knew so she could begin a more meaningful art project? Suddenly, it seemed silly to conceal this bit of wisdom. Spilling the secret would be a public service, I imagined. In fact, sharing the information might make me cooler—like the kids who learned the meanings of swear words before everyone else.
“You know there is no Santa Claus, right?”
Instantly, my cheeks burned as I realized I had committed a grievous wrong. So great was my shame that it’s blocked out any memory of how, exactly, Jacqueline reacted. All I recall is wishing I could dissolve into metallic goo and seep away through a hole in the ground, a la Alex Mack. I shouldn’t have told her!
I’ve felt guilty about it ever since. Each year, around Christmas, I recall the events of that afternoon and wonder: Did my gaffe kill part of her hopeful, glittering soul? Does she think of me each year by the Christmas tree, her eggnog made bitter by the memory of the day I took an ax to her childish sense of awe and wonder? How often did kids spoil Santa for their classmates?