The question I knew would eventually come arrived the day after Thanksgiving, halfway between the movies and the walk to Santa's workshop in the mall:
"Grandma, is Santa real?" asked my youngest granddaughter. At 7, I'm sure she's heard the playground rumors.
"Of course he's real," I answered without hesitation. Let's just say I've had lots of practice over the years answering that same question from my own two kids and their assorted progeny.
As we walked toward Santa, the 7-year-old's sister, a worldly 11 now, said nothing. Then again, she did nothing to dispel the notion, even sitting on Santa's knee and dutifully reciting what she'd like for Christmas. Bless you, child, for not spoiling another's fantasy.
I must have been around her same age when I, too, started questioning Santa's existence. It may have begun when I noticed an awful lot of cursing going on near the tree on Christmas Eve after we were supposed to be asleep. Didn't Santa deliver the bicycles and doll houses already assembled?
At any rate, by age 10, I was pretty sure who was responsible for all those presents under the tree, especially since he sounded a lot like my dad. Frankly, I was a little relieved to let the Rotund One go, along with the Tooth Fairy and especially the Easter Bunny. Knowing some giant rabbit was nosing around the Easter baskets on my mother's kitchen table somehow left me terribly uneasy.
When my own kids arrived, we kept up the Santa ruse until they, too, started to contemplate The Awful Truth. For a couple of Christmases, as I recall, kids and parents alike adopted a "don't ask, don't tell," policy when it came to Santa's existence.
The day of reckoning finally arrived one bleak December morn when the kids and I were in the grocery store and I overheard my daughter make some sort of remark to her younger brother along the lines of Santa being just a fairy tale. "Shhh," he hushed her, his look all but telegraphing, "Don't let Mom know."
And that's a big part of it, isn't it, that parents get as much joy out of the whole charade as their kids do.
Joy, however, seemed to be the last thing my older grandkids felt after getting up close and personal with Santa. My photo albums are stuffed with pictures of them all sitting on Santa's knee, all screaming their little heads off in terror.
Ah well, there's more to Santa than a red felt suit and a platinum beard.
Five Decembers ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tucsonan Virginia Rogers, who held vivid memories of her own grandmother, Virginia O'Hanlon. In 1897, Virginia O'Hanlon, then 8, wrote a letter to the editor of The Sun in New York City, asking, "Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?"
Veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church's, reply, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," soon became a classic, beloved for more than a century now by cynics and true believers alike.
The next time someone I love asks me in a childish voice whether Santa Claus is real, I know what I will do. We will settle down in a quiet place and I will read Mr. Church's timeless answer, giving special emphasis to his assurance that Santa truly exists "as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist."
Bonnie Henry's column runs every other Sunday. Contact her at Bonniehenryaz@gmail.com