Friday, December 16, 2016

There Is No Santa Here

“I love you, and because I love you, I would sooner have you hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies.” – Pietro Aretino

I did not teach my kids about Santa Claus. They know about him, of course, but I did not teach them that the joy of Christmas is found in a jolly man in a red suit.

There are big decisions to be made in parenting, and the idea of Santa Claus is one of them – to me, anyway. Let me explain.

I’m a single mom. I have been a single mom almost all my maternal life. I take this with a great sense of responsibility. I’ve always wanted my children to know that they can trust me, that they can count on what I say. So when it came to what I would tell them about Christmas, and Santa Claus, and how those stockings got filled, I had to think.

I know some parents get very into the idea of Santa Claus. Some stores even sell boot-print kits (here, for example) that parents can sprinkle snow or soot into so parents can leave Santa’s boot-prints behind to flesh out the ruse of Santa having visited the house. I’ve spoken to parents who would leave a wrapped present on the roof, as if it had fallen out of Santa’s sleigh and somehow manage to get their kid to spot it in the morning. The parents would haul out a ladder, climb onto the roof, and oh! amazingly, the gift would be for their child. Other parents hide presents until the night before Christmas. After the child goes to bed, the presents appear under the tree, “from Santa”.

I chose not to do any of the above.

Instead, I asked myself questions: Do I want to lie to my children? Do I want them to place their faith in something that isn’t real? Why would I encourage the build-up and belief of a lie to my children, when I teach them to be honest?

When kids are little, they cannot distinguish between real and not real, between cartoon and real life. This is why adults have to do it for them. And of course, as adults, it can be hard for us to understand this sometimes (“but it’s a cartoon! Can’t you see that?” – No, actually, they can’t.). When a child is reared with the notion that Santa Claus is real, believes that for years, and then finds out that his parents lied to him, for years, that entire part of his ideology is shaken…because he was asked to believe in something he had not seen. There are songs about Santa. There are images of Santa. But Santa will not come if the child is awake and waiting for him, so the child can only believe, but can never see him. Do you see where I am going with this? This kid is being conditioned to take on faith something that turns out to be a lie. So when that child is also reared in the church, is told about God, and His Son, and is asked to take this on faith as well, how – in the child’s mind – will this not be a lie also? Why plant a doubt for the temporary gratification of Santa Claus that will end, when Christmas can be so wonderfully enjoyed without Santa Claus?

But religion is not the only reason I did not teach my kids about Santa Claus.

The tags on the presents beneath our Christmas tree are honest tags. The gifts are not from Santa. These gifts were not created in a fantastical workshop in the North Pole. I bought them for my children. My children know that they do not get presents just for being good. There is no “naughty list” or “nice list”. Knowing those niftily wrapped presents under the tree come from me lets them know there is no gift fairy with a limitless budget who grants gift-wishes. My children appreciate each gift they are given because they know the budget we live with.

I love the Christmas season: the music, the decorations, and the spirit of generosity. So when my kids were very young and were learning about Santa Claus with their peers, I told them that Santa Claus was not an actual person, but was just an idea. He was the idea of giving. People like to put faces on things, so they made the idea into a person: Santa. (I also told them it was not up to them to tell other kids Santa was not real.)

Christmas, to us, is a time for celebrating with family. We come together with grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles and rejoice in each other’s companionship and camaraderie. The food, the conversation, the togetherness, the bonds of shared history: all of these are so much more important than any gifts that may be exchanged. Because, you see, there is no Santa Claus, so we nourish the relationships that do exist, rather than the ones that don’t. 

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