I love Christmas. Love it. I crank the Christmas music beginning in mid-November, bake sugar cookies from scratch and throw decorating parties, make DIY ornaments, hang twinkly lights, and guzzle eggnog. The food, the music, the decorations, the family togetherness…bring it on.
But I do not love Santa.
It’s not because I’m religious—even a little. My Christmases are so secular I feel uncomfortable when I sing along with “Joy to the World”.
My problem with Santa is that he’s a big, fat lie. I don’t like lying to my kid. Of course, we don’t tell her the whole truth about everything—at age 3, we work with what’s age-appropriate. But I don’t outright lie.
The Santa lie feels enormous, from the elaborate descriptions of the North Pole toy factory operation complete with elves, mailing actual stamped and addressed wish lists, checking the Santa Tracker, discussing the logistics of how Santa gets into houses without chimneys, setting out a plate of cookies (then leaving crumbs), strategically positioning an elf every night, and the hundreds of Santa sightings leading up to the big day.
Strangers ask my daughter if she’s excited about Santa visiting. (I guess we look decidedly Not Jewish.) A teacher warned her she won’t get presents from Santa if she’s “bad”.
I especially don’t like using Santa as a threat or behavioural modification tool. First, it’s only effective leading up to Christmas. What happens in January? But also, ideally, I’d like my daughter to be respectful and kind because it’s the right thing to do, not because she’s worried Santa will punish her.
Then there’s the different faiths issue. We live in a big, diverse city where not everyone celebrates Christmas. How do I explain that Santa doesn’t bring gifts to my kids’ Jewish, Muslim, Hindu friends?
Personally, I loved Santa as a kid and wasn’t devastated when I found out (or figured out, more accurately) that he wasn’t real, at around age 8. In fact, I loved being in on the scheme with my parents, for my younger siblings’ sake. And I’m not opposed to kids believing in magic. As a child, I was heavily influenced by The Velveteen Rabbit and loved believing that my dolls came to life while I slept. There is also evidence that the Santa story and magical thinking in general are important for kids’ cognitive development.
But there is, it seems, a right time to tell kids the truth. Namely, before they get to an age (around 10 or so) where they begin staunchly defending Santa against their friends’ accusations that he’s fictional—as evidenced in this real-life story aired on the This American Life podcast two years ago, about a family went to almost unbelievable lengths to perpetuate the myth.
For now, we’re tentatively accepting Santa as a part of Christmas, but keeping it low-key. He brings one gift, not ten. He doesn’t honour outrageously expensive requests. (Another thing I hate about Santa—he gets all the credit for those awesome gifts. Totally not fair!)
We won’t, however, offer details about who or what Santa does. I’m leaning toward leaving it open-ended and allowing my kids to fill in the blanks, and dealing with questions as we come up. Should my daughter ask me point-blank today if Santa’s real, my answer would probably be: “He might be. No one knows for sure.”
I’m willing to play the Santa agnostic and embrace the possibility of magic in these early years. This weekend, in fact, my husband and I are heading to the Santa Experience so my 3-year-old can sit on a stranger’s lap, fully believing he will bring her whatever toy she asks for. (No doubt, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. An inexplicable recent obsession!)
I know she will love the music, the show, the spectacle, the magic. So I’ll love it too…for now.
Shannon Kelly is the Managing Editor at Help! We’ve Got Kids.
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