Another round of Thanksgiving/Hanukkah/Christmas/New Years has come and gone. Now that we are back to what passes for “normal” life around here, I am grateful to be done with the whole exhausting winter holiday season. I love the traditions associated with each of the aforementioned holidays, but I don’t like the fanatical hype associated with Santa and I really don’t like lying to my children about Santa. So, we don’t.
This Christmas, Little Sister was almost 3 & Big Brother is 5.5 years and we told them the same thing this year as we have every year: Santa is pretend and it’s fun to pretend. If pressed for further explanation, we say Santa Claus is a way of making an idea more real, a way of expressing love and thoughtfulness for those around us. We also tell them that if they choose to believe in Santa, that’s fine with us, but if they ask us directly about Santa we will tell them the truth.
Some adults have a hard time fathoming this as a positive concept, as though being honest with our kids somehow “takes the fun away” and “ruins children’s innocence.” Some people pin the idea on my Jewish husband, though we’ve both always agreed on how we’d discuss Santa with our kids. I even had a friend jokingly request (at least I hope it was jokingly) that we ask our son not to discuss the possibility of Santa’s non-existence with their five year old, as they’ve gone to great lengths to facilitate the idea that Santa is Real.
Because I know we’re bucking the trend, I try to keep my defensiveness in check. I try not to make it a big deal either way (because it ISN’T a big deal, people, it’s a story). I tell my kids that other families believe differently than we do about Santa and that’s ok. We talk about how Christmas is a time to do special things with special people in our lives and that gift giving and receiving is a wonderful part of the holidays.
But as much as I want this to be an easy “we do our thing, they do theirs,” it isn’t easy in practice. For the first time, my kindergartener struggled with this concept, as he’s run into more Santa-mania because he now knows a wider scope of children. He had to work to make sense of why his parents told him “Santa is pretend” and why his buddies say, “I know Santa is real! My mom said so.” Initially, Big Brother insisted Santa was real and we said he could believe that if he liked because it’s fun to pretend.
He did…for a little while. But on Christmas Eve as we tucked him into bed and whispered about what a wonderful surprise would await us tomorrow morning under the tree, Big Brother sighed.
“I know Santa isn’t real even though (insert friend’s name) says he is. You and Daddy put presents under the tree and in our stockings while we’re asleep.”
“Yes, we do. And so do all your grandparents and great-grandparents and aunties & uncles. But it’s still exciting to wake up in the morning as be greeted by a wonderful Christmas sight.”
“Why don’t you want me to think Santa is real?”
“Because someday you’ll learn that he is pretend and if you’ve always truly believed Santa is real then you’ll be very disappointed. However, if you know Santa is pretend and you enjoy the pretending then you will always enjoy Christmas. As you get older, Daddy and I don’t want you to wonder why we told you something is true when it isn’t. I want you to believe what we say because you know we will always tell you the truth, even if it’s not easy to hear.”
I understand Santa is a cultural phenomenon. I get that people have heightened emotions surrounding Santa’s existence, and I’m fine with how other families handle the concept. I would never want another family to change their traditions or beliefs to more closely match mine. But I dearly desire for my children to know in their heart of hearts that their parents will always give them credible information in a respectful, loving way. When they are older, I hope this means they will choose to believe our advice about sex, drugs, and other tricky matters over the possibly inaccurate information disseminated by their friends (and perhaps their friends’ parents.)
Did that chat diminish my son’s experience of Christmas? It diminished mine a bit when I saw the disappointment flicker across his face during our talk. But according to his reaction Christmas morning when the tree lights were softly glowing and the presents were in full array, he’s fine with pretending. In fact, this year he really got into the holiday spirit of giving presents to others.
Has it impacted him in other ways? Maybe. He’s the kid on the playground telling other children Santa is pretend because his mom said so. Somebody’s got to keep it real.