Father Christmas has officially been rumbled in our family.
I've been anxiously expecting it for the last three years, unsure how I was going to handle it, worried that our son would feel a sense of betrayal, that we'd tricked him. He was six the first time he heard rumours of parents putting presents in stockings and asked me about it. The younger girls were around at the time, so I placated him with a half truth and ever since then he has happily made cards for Father Christmas and left carrots for the reindeer.
He is nine and a half now though and I was beginning to fear the other extreme - him getting mocked at high school for still believing in Father Christmas!
I made the tactical error of buying some glittery mosaic pens, that they'd been admiring in the crystal shop a couple of weeks ago, to put in their stockings. This, combined with our son's friend and his family coming to lunch on Christmas Day, he who was bursting with the knowledge of the Father Christmas conspiracy, meant that before the day was out, just as we were waving off our friends, our three children went into a secretive huddle.
Middle daughter emerged and made a bee-line for me:
"Did you buy the pens and crystals in the crystal shop?"
I deflected her with a "What do you think?" and a quizzical look, not quite ready to start explanations in the middle of all the goodbyes.
A hurried confab with my husband ensued and we decided to wait for any more questions, rather than make them face bald truths that they weren't sure they wanted to know.
I felt a bit sad that Youngest had also been disillusioned when she is still only five, but I guess that is the way it goes in families where the children share everything, knowledge included.
Nobody asked questions at bed -time to my relief, but I couldn't quite relax, trying to work out an explanation that would make sense to them.
In the end the questions came the next morning, when I came through bleary eyed at 6.30 to find them all sitting on the sofa, not watching a video as usual, but individually playing with their favourite Christmas presents or reading.
Middle Daughter was the one determined to get a satisfactory answer. She repeated her question of the previous day.
I looked at them and asked if they wanted me to tell them more. A solemn "Yes" came from them all.
I launched into my prepared speech: about how St Nicholas was a real man who lived a long time ago, who started the tradition of secretly leaving presents for the children of his town around Christmas time. That after he died the parents decided to carry on his tradition. That the story of Father Christmas comes from him and is all about the spirit of Christmas, of loving and giving. That younger children have the whole Father Christmas story but when they are old enough to ask questions they are also old enough to understand what Christmas is all about. That Father Christmas may not be a real person but his spirit is out there - just like with angels, you can't see him. That even though parents have to do the actual buying of presents, the spirit of Father Christmas is still a part of it.
What amazed me was how comfortable they felt with the angel comparison - they could relate to that and it helped them understand.
Youngest has said a couple of times that she hopes she forgets so that she can enjoy it all next Christmas and our son would also rather forget and keep the illusion going. It is our seven year old Middle Daughter who, in the scientific spirit of investigation, keeps coming back to me with questions about whether I bought everything and was it Father Christmas who took their thank you cards.
All in all it was easier than I feared and I hope they manage to let it all settle into the nether reaches of their subconscious and enjoy their stockings next year too.
I'm wondering how long it'll be now till the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny get their cover blown!