Last Christmas Eve, we made my great-grandmother’s Italian Christmas cookies. My four kids designed their own with sprinkles; the rest were set aside to enjoy after Christmas dinner, minus the three we placed on a plate for Santa Claus. As we baked, we kept an eye on the Santa Tracker, and as he got closer, I reminded my kids that if they weren’t in bed soon, he might pass our house. We had maintained this Christmas Eve routine for years, and when I went to bed, I had no idea it would be the last year for such traditions.

I had secretly dragged up gifts from my hiding spots in the basement, pulled others from the closet, and did my best not to forget anything. Each year, I listened for the sound of footsteps as I placed those presents under the tree. And while there had been a few close calls, I’d never been caught.

When my oldest children, now 17 and 16, found out about Santa, they promised not to tell their younger brother and sister, allowing them to hold onto the wonder for a little bit longer. That finally ended last year when my youngest told me they knew Santa wasn’t real.

I admitted the truth, but not without giving the same speech I gave to my older kids years earlier: “I am Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, that annoying Elf on the Shelf (with a bit of help from your older sister), and every other magical, gift-giving holiday entity.” I explained that creating this magic for them was magical for me and that if one day they chose to have kids of their own, they would recreate this magic, too.

This exact talk lessened the blow when I discovered the same truth 42 years earlier. My foster mother delivered it as I sat crying in the bathroom after a mean kid told me Santa wasn’t real. Her words helped me to see that Santa was real in a way. That we carry the magic of the tradition with us and pass it along to our children, who would one day do the same. She promised that being Santa would be as much fun as believing in him; she was both right and wrong.

While I loved playing the Big Guy for over a decade and a half, it was also an enormous amount of work. It meant while I was working full-time, I also had to buy gifts, hide gifts, find time to wrap gifts, drag the elf out, make cookies for Santa (a.k.a. me), buy eggnog, “feed” the reindeer, and keep up a lie that consumed an entire month of our lives. Being Santa was fun, but it was also exhausting.

Related: Behind Every Magical Holiday Moment Is an Exhausted Mom

Finding out my youngest no longer believed was sad because it signified another parenting end, but it also ushered in the beginning of a new era, and with it came a reworking of Christmas. Now my kids can help me shop for their older siblings. We have also decided they can each take nights finding that annoying elf, creating crazy scenes, and impressing each other with the elf’s antics.

Their discovery of the truth lightened the load for me. I do not have to mail a list or hide every present when they go to bed, and the fear of getting caught is gone. I am grateful that I can now announce “presents coming through, close your eyes” and that I can use all the old wrapping paper from Christmases past (Saint Nick would never!).

So while Santa may be gone, his contributions will never be forgotten. We will always have our memories, but now we can create new traditions.

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