WARNING: Don’t leave this lying about for unattended children to read. Management is not responsible for dashed illusions, broken dreams, or crushed hopes.

It’s a rite of passage we all endure, when innocence is stripped away and replaced with calculated cynicism. We look at the world through new, jaded eyes, seeing through the layers of mystery to the unforgiving truth within.

So there’s no avoiding it: one of these days your children are going to decide that Santa Claus is hooey.

I bet you thought we were talking about the birds and the bees. Not today. This is serious.

A friend writes: “My 7-year-old son has already decided that Santa is mom and dad having fun. I know it’s just a dumb little story, but I’m sad anyway.”

When my daughters approached me years ago with The Question About Santa I didn’t flinch. “I can’t tell you that there isn’t a man at the North Pole running an elf sweatshop because I’ve never been there to see. I have not, however, met the guy.”

Their faces fell, and I added, “That being said, I can tell you that I never lied to you: there is, in fact, a Santa Claus. I know, because I AM Santa Claus.”

And then I explained how it worked. I told them that the fun of Christmas magic is that it is counter intuitive, but still true, that giving joy is the best way to receive it. That being Santa Claus is more fulfilling than believing his press releases.

More truth: even the commercial “magic of the season” does not involve a man with a pronounced weight problem who manages to wedge himself into every chimney in the world in one night. (Next column: Are We Fat Shaming Santa Claus?).

No, the True Magic of Christmas Gift Giving is that someone cared about you enough to stay up late and smash boots into the fireplace so as to leave an ashy footprint on the hearth. Your exhausted father crawled up on the roof in the middle of the night to ring sleigh bells because he loved you. Your mother used special Santa wrapping paper every single year, and knocked back the entire margarita she convinced you to leave with the cookies (since we’re telling truths, I’ll stipulate that the margarita was more “bonus” than “hardship,” but if you use the good tequila, it’s still magic.)

More Magic: They worked overtime to buy you a Nintendo and then handed the credit to a complete stranger. They stayed up until 3 a.m. Christmas morning assembling bicycles and let you think clever little elves did the work. They convinced you that Santa was keeping a naughty/nice list that would make the NSA proud and that the size of your haul depended on the size of your deportment and then they just gave you all the presents anyway, even though you shaved the dog and dyed it pink on Christmas Eve.

Your parents weren’t trying to mess with your head. They gave you the ultimate gift: the ability to believe, sometimes with nothing more to go on than an ashy footprint and a nibbled cookie. That’s a talent you may need later.

And that’s one more thing I believe is a good thing.

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Elizabeth Evans can be reached at elizabethann40@hotmail.com.

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