This Santa dude is pervasive.
Let me back up. My parenting partner and I have chosen to be honest with our children in a developmentally appropriate way. If you’ve read my past posts about losing our dog, you know that we didn’t lie to our children. We didn’t use euphemisms, we didn’t say she was “on vacation” or “in heaven” or “sleeping.” We explained it all in simple, honest terms.
The people in our lives who know we value honesty and who understand how we addressed the death of our dog with our children aren’t surprised to discover that we don’t *do* Santa; we don’t sell him as real. I could spend quite a bit of time pontificating about the various reasons for our choice, but what it comes down to is that Santa and the Santa tradition is about selling a lie to your children. Sure, we can dress it up–we can say it’s about celebrating the magic of the season or helping Christmas be a magical time for children. But when it comes down to it, selling Santa as real means lying to your children in all kinds of ways. And the older children get, the more likely they are to question the lie. And the more they question, the greater lengths you have to go to sell him as real. Eventually, though, they will discover that he’s not real. And no matter what you think, you will not be able to control the “how” of that discovery. I’ve known more than one person who has been truly traumatized to discover their parents have lied–and lied extensively–about something they held so near and dear to their heart. When I was a high school teacher, I was told by dozens of students that Santa was one reason they didn’t feel they could trust their parents. In true teenage fashion, they felt if their parents could lie about Santa they could lie about anything. And if their parents were lying to them, what was the big deal if they lied to their parents?
You can see where this might get you–in a whole heap of trouble. But, still, parents across the world persist in selling the Santa myth. And, really, if you want to lie to your children, I suppose that’s your purview. But if you lie to mine–well, that’s NOT your purview.
And now we get back to it. This Santa dude is everywhere. Preschool? Check. Mall? Check. Holiday Lights lighting? Check. Airport? Check. Every adult my children and I interacted with as we engaged in holiday shopping and travels inevitably asked my oldest some variation of, “Are you getting excited about Santa’s visit to your house?” generally followed by, “Are you going to leave some cookies out for him?” They took her silence to be shyness. What they really should have taken it for was the squelching of a really rude question: “Are you nuts?”
After we would part ways, I would get questions. Why would mommies and daddies let a strange man in to the house? Which Santa would the mommies and daddies let in–the one from the mall or the one from the airport? Why would she leave real cookies out for a pretend character? The list goes on. And, actually, these encounters engendered some insightful discussions about honesty, lying, and pretending, so I should probably thank some of these strangers for trying to sell a lie to my children.
Santa has been insightful for me as well. I now realize how easy it is to sell a lie to young children–be that lie Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or God. I know two other freethinking parents who don’t want to do Santa as real but whose children have been sold the lie by their child care providers who think they know better than the parents (that’s another post, I think). Young children have this magical quality to their thinking–the line between real and pretend is very transparent, almost gossameric. It’s too easy to get them to believe a lie and then it’s very hard to get them back to the truth.
I can see more clearly, now, the truth behind the maxim attributed to Jesuit Francis Xavier, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” The truth behind who children will become as adults is more complicated, perhaps, but traditions and habits are certainly vital building blocks for the adults our children will become. So we have worked very hard to create a Christmas celebration which is about family and love and gratitude and giving, which celebrates the changing of the seasons and the apex of the darkened days in the march towards Spring. The true reality of the season is that its traditions are more pagan than christian anyway and, frankly, some of those pagan traditions aren’t all that great either. (In fact, Santa may actually be one of the more innocuous pagan traditions.)
So, we try to take what is best about the holiday and focus on that. The rest can–and should–fall away.
In the spirit of taking what is best and of creating our own traditions, here are two great articles: