Ho! Ho! Ho! or No? What To Do With Santa

Posted: December 16, 2010 in Holiday, Kids, Parenting
Tags: , , , , , , ,

“Santa Claus is coming to town! Santa Claus is coming to town!” At least, I think he is…

Christmas is a week away. Clara is now three years old, Shepard is sixteen months and next month a new child will be away in a manger putting any thoughts of a silent night well into the rear view mirror for the foreseeable future. But the idea of having three kids age three and under is not the primary thought occupying my mind this Holiday season (I’ll deal with that in January). Rather, it is the realization that three years into this journey of parenting, the white elephant in the room remains what to do with Old Saint Nick.

Jaime had a classic Santa experience believing until around age seven or eight. She has fond memories of believing in a larger than life figure who displayed extravagant generosity and being comforted that someone was looking out for all the children of the world, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds. When Jaime figured the ruse out, she wasn’t upset, but instead delighted in assisting the faith of her younger siblings.

I, on the other hand, was that kid on the playground who was telling your kids that Santa was a hoax resulting in angry phone calls to my parents about how I was ruining the magic of Christmas. You see, my father had been a true believer in Father Christmas. When he found out the whole thing was fake, he felt deep in his soul that he had been lied to and when he recounts that moment, one can still hear the pain in his voice. I imagine his childhood anger dwarfing Miles Finch’s fury after being called an elf by Will Ferrell. What really got my dad going was that his own parents had deliberately duped him. He vowed that day he would never lie to his own children in such a manner. So, naturally I shared my father’s disdain for Kris Kringle as I was never given a chance to believe anything but anti-Claus propaganda.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bitter about my own childhood Christmas experiences. We had a great time and I don’t feel I lost anything by not believing in the jolly benefactor in the red suit. We still had presents under the tree, still opened stockings, still belted out “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” But I want to believe there’s a third way. Something beyond deliberately lying to my own kids on the justification that the entire culture does it and therefore it must be okay, but leaving room for childlike faith to soar and grow in the goodwill of mankind, the supernatural, or both.

Presumably, the argument could be made that the whole Santa production is really for us parents and the enjoyment we receive from manipulating our children and then vicariously experiencing their wonderment. I don’t buy this theory entirely though due to the sheer number of folks who pleasantly recount their credence in the charm of the North Pole. Plus, if it were really all about Mom and Dad, it wouldn’t make sense to forgo all the credit for the awesome gifts and transfer the gratitude to an anonymous bearded senior citizen.

Then there’s the whole religious element. The origins of Santa Claus include a mix of semi-Christian mythology and history, but gradually he has become, at least to some degree, a symbol of the commercialism of the season. Some even protest Papa Noel as an anti-Christ figure, the icon of secularism that threatens to swallow the birth story of Christ. Even though Santa is an easy anagram for Satan, I don’t subscribe to any ill-will toward Mr. Claus and dismiss claims such as these quite easily; perhaps because my particular faith tradition was more concerned that December 25th was being celebrated as Jesus’ actual birthday without any “Scriptural authority” or common sense (shepherds don’t typically hang out with their flocks outdoors in the winter).

For a while I thought perhaps I could take an M Night Shyamalan approach to the whole Santa dilemma. You know, pull a “Sixth Sense”, never actually speaking about the guy, but not denying my kids the experience of believing. Then when they figure it all out they could look back and realize I had never actually said Santa was real. They could then replay their whole childhood looking for the red doorknobs that would have tipped them off sooner to the secret of Santa. But while I believe myself to be decently clever, my kids are pretty smart cookies and I recently had to resign that this plan is not feasible in the long run.

So back to the drawing board. But speaking of cookies, I am completely down for eating a plateful of warm chocolate chip cookies with a tall glass of milk each Christmas Eve. So count me in… for now.

  1. kloppenmum says:

    Childhood is fleeting. What’s wrong with a bit of magic?

  2. courtney says:

    I’m inclined to agree with the previous comment. Childhood IS fleeting. I understand and agree with EVERYTHING you said. I have recently struggled with this as well, I suppose since my daughter is 1 and soon to realize what is going on. I grew up like jaime. I had a wonderful experience, and had no ill feelings towrds anyone when I found out. Also being the oldest, I delighted in keeping the secret from my siblings and helping create the magic for them. I believe most people are like that and have similar experiences.rest assured josh, no matter what you and jaime decide to do, it will be what is best for your family, and your kids will love you no matter what for it. Because it will be THEIR TRADITION that their parents gave them. Godspeed 🙂

  3. April says:

    Good answer, Courtney.

    For my own kids, we’re not making a huge deal of it. Justin reads them The Night Before Christmas, they see Santa images around, but we don’t make a big point of playing up Santa. There’s no super excited Santa talk or anything, and we don’t go see Santa (mostly because I’m severely creeped out by mall Santas). Will is 4 this year and he already seems skeptical about Mr. Claus – we’re getting the feasibility questions. He’s a smart kid and not at all gullible. It’s hard to tell his true thoughts though because his speech patterns are strange and he mixes talk about real, make believe and things he has encountered in stories or on TV (it’s likely that he’s high functioning autistic, like I am). Lyn is 2, and this is her first Christmas being a communicator so I’m unsure her reactions yet.

    Going forward, we’ll probably continue the casual attitude towards Santa – not being his cheerleaders, but not banning him either. I doubt Will is ever going to buy it, so we’ll probably be having a conversation with him in another year or two at most about how Santa isn’t a person but rather the representation of the holiday spirit, and how that ties in with Jesus’s birth and gifts.

    I much prefer a far less materialistic holiday, but we spend the holidays with Justin’s family who go absolutely INSANE on Christmas spending (seriously – generally each person’s gift stack is larger than the person and the value could purchase a beater car. I give mostly homemade gifts of low monetary value but high effort and thought. I equate time and effort with value of the person, not price. It’s awkward.) So we’re at odds between my desire to spin the holiday towards family time, contemplation and celebration, and their tradition of buying and gifting everything in sight, eating far too much and some holiday classics. For now, the kids go shopping with Dad, get a ludicrous amount of stuff from his family, and spend time cooking and crafting with me. I hope this dual image doesn’t leave them too confused. I hope as they grow up that they’ll be strongly aware of the religious origins of Christmas, and that they’ll eventually voluntarily choose a less materialistic holiday as I have. I think it’s easier to grasp the concept of a nonmaterial Santa when you feel more of what the holiday should be about – and less of the inclination to max out your credit cards.

    • Blair says:

      Childhood fantasy is something that creates magic within a child. Clara lights up with images of princesses and princes that don’t exist, nor in her lifetime will there ever be any real ones, at least in these United States. You may as well tell her this is all fake too. Oh and the princess movies…..well these fantasies will never happen in real life. Heaven forbid she twirl around like a princess and feel that she is one! What an awful childhood fantasy.
      The point is we all dream, some dream less realistic dreams than others, even into adulthood. But the dreaming gets started as a child. I wish adults would worry more of the clever deceptions within themselves for which they will be held accountable someday, than innocent fantasy we help create within a child. We all find out soon enough that we have to create the dream!

  4. Mary says:

    I agree with you on playing the “6th sense” card. That’s exactly what my parents did. Then, eventually, as we got older, we came to the conclusions on our own but we never ruined it for the little people. =) I agree with Kloppenmum, too. Let them believe in a little magic! Great post.

  5. Randy says:

    Hi Josh,
    I liked your panorama of how to approach Santa during Christmas. Alas, it is I, your father, the grinch that stold Christmas. It is indeed true that I was extremely disappointed in my parents for lieing to me. But the reason behind the disappointment
    was much more than just a simple seemingly harmless lie. It was that the truth was not told. My parents professed to know God yet never spoke of him at home. Their lives at home and their lives on Sunday were different. Which one was the truth and which one was the lie? A child can learn three different languages at home while in diapers, and while they can learn that a good jolly old fellow will reward those that are good, why not replace that with the truth? Fat guys dont go down chimnies. Many a child has gotten stuck in the chimney trying to mimic Santa Claus. Why not teach your children to follow the example of Christ and to learn to love one another as yourself.
    I do believe you can do both. But the sooner your children are tuned into the truth the sooner they can recognize the lies. I strongly believe that the seeker of the truth will recognize the truth. If my children asked me if reindeer really fly, you most certainly know what my answer will be. Love you, son Dad and Ho Ho Ho , Merry Christmas!!!

    • Blair says:

      Amen Randy, no matter what fantasies children have they can still recognize truth through example and teaching! But example will win out every time!

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