To Santa or not?
A few days ago, my husband picked up Elliot from preschool and discovered in his cubby a letter to Santa. It read, “Dear Santa, I would like a ride-on, blue jeep. Love, Elliot.”
When Mike called to tell me he was heading home with our son, I think he was hesitant to mention the letter. “Elliot wrote a ‘Dear Santa’ letter at school today,” he finally said.
“Really? What did it say?” I asked.
When he revealed to me Elliot’s one wish, I did my best to keep my Santa frustration to myself and not launch into an opinionated speech. I was, in fact, sitting in my cubicle in a very quiet office. Yet, I pondered several problems with Elliot’s request. Said jeep is out of our price range, and “Santa” has already bought him his gifts. We do not have a yard large enough for Elliot to get good use out of the jeep. Also, I just plain disapprove of those battery-powered, kiddie cars and trucks, and I don’t want my children to have them.
The primary reason the Santa letter bothered me, however, was because I am a Santa Claus hater. Yep, you read that correctly. I do not like Santa. Even when I was a child, I don’t think I ever completely bought into the Santa sham.
After doing some amateur research, I feel as though I could write an entire, separate blog about the origins of Santa Claus. For any curious readers, the idea of Santa began with St. Nicholas, the third-century Bishop of Myra and lover of children who gave to the poor. Today, he is often remembered as a man who put gifts in children’s shoes. The anniversary of his death, Dec. 6, became known as St. Nicholas Day. Christopher Columbus brought the legacy of St. Nicholas to the Americas. Later, an 1821 book, “The Children’s Friend,” featured Santa Claus coming from the North in a sleigh with flying reindeer. The 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” now more commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” set the new standard for the American Santa Claus. During the 20th century, writers, artists and even the Coca-Cola Company brought into focus what we now know as the modern Santa.
For what it’s worth, I would like to point out that I have no problem with St. Nicholas. It sounds like he was a wonderful man. In fact, the St. Nicholas Center website states, “Nicholas put Jesus Christ at the center of his life, his ministry, his entire existence.” I love that. It’s the commercialization of Christmas that bothers me, this mentality that we have to buy, buy, buy for our children.
When Mike and I became parents, I had specific thoughts about how we would handle Santa Claus. Originally, I wanted to just leave Santa out of the Christmas picture altogether. After all, Christmas is the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth. Nowhere in the Bible’s depiction of that event was there ever a fat dude in a red, fur-lined suit giving away toys from a sleigh pulled by reindeer.
My family scoffed at the thought of not telling Elliot about Santa. How would we handle the situation around Elliot’s cousins when all their presents came from Santa? For Elliot’s first three Christmases, we were fairly successful at not mentioning the “S” word. At age 2, family members and even strangers would occasionally ask him if he was “ready for Santa Claus.” He would furrow his brow and give them a puzzled look.
Last year, when Elliot was 3, was a little more difficult. For the most part, we again did not mention Santa. We played up Christmas being a celebration of Jesus’ birth. There was one instance in December when a daycare worker disapproved of Elliot’s behavior and pulled the Santa card. “Elliot, if you don’t quit that, Santa might not bring you any presents,” she told him. Thankfully, Mike walked in to pick up Elliot at that exact moment. He politely told the woman, “That’s not going to work on him. He doesn’t know who Santa is.”
This year, at age 4, Elliot is more in tune with Santa. All I have really told him is that Santa brings presents at Christmas, he lives at the North Pole and children are not allowed to see Santa when he comes to their homes. I only relented to tell Elliot these items because it is obvious he is learning about Santa at preschool. And, who knows what his friends are saying. I believe the Santa sham is one example of why parents choose to home school. This is a topic I wish everyone else would stop discussing with my child. Realistically, though, I know that Santa Claus – and, unfortunately, the commercialization of Christmas – is a part of the American culture.
To be honest, I would have much rather just told Elliot from the beginning that Santa is not real. The only reason we have not done this is because we know that he will tell all his friends at school. I could just hear him: “My mama said Santa isn’t real, and mommies and daddies are the ones who buy all the presents.”
One of my lifelong friends, who is a teacher in a public school, once told me that she would not tell her children that Santa isn’t real. The reason? Because it requires children to have a maturity that is not appropriate for their age. This is an excellent point. If I were to tell Elliot now that Santa is a sham, I would either have to be OK with him “ruining” it for other children or ask him not to “spoil” Christmas for other youngsters. The latter would definitely be a request above his maturity level.
Others have argued that not telling a child about Santa deprives him or her of the “magic of Christmas.” I totally balk at this idea. We’re not into magic. And besides, what could be more beautiful and special than the living God coming to Earth in the form of a sweet baby boy?
So, for this year, what Mike and I have decided to do is tell Elliot that Santa will bring him three gifts – an idea given to me by another dear friend who practices this logic with her daughter – because Jesus received three gifts for his birthday. Eventually, as my friend pointed out, the question will arise, “How come I get three gifts from Santa, but my friends at school get 10?” Or 15 or 20.
When Elliot starts asking questions like these or “Is it really possible for Santa to travel all around the world in one night?” I’m going to answer his questions with questions and let him ponder, “Well, what do you think?”
One of my biggest concerns about the Santa sham is that it’s just a bunch of lies. Some families, for example, have their Christmas celebration a week before Dec. 25 or on Christmas Eve or even after the actual holiday. I’ve heard of parents who tell their children that Santa drops off gifts early in those instances.
As a child, one of my earliest suspicions was that Santa’s wrapping paper was sometimes the same as what my mom used for other family members’ gifts. My niece raised that question, and my sister-in-law told her that Santa drops off some presents early and that she helps with the wrapping. Santa and the elves can’t possibly keep up with all that wrapping.
I recently discussed the Santa issue with one of my coworkers, and she told me she remembers being devastated upon learning that Santa isn’t real. Immediately, her mind began reeling, “That means the Tooth Fairy isn’t real, and the Easter Bunny isn’t real.” All the lies came crashing down at once.
For me, I wasn’t surprised, and learning the truth about Santa didn’t affect me in a profound way. Like I said, I was suspicious from an early age. My Elliot is smart, and I’m hoping he will “figure it out” too. Perhaps he will realize it this year when Santa doesn’t bring him the ride-on, blue jeep.
Originally published on ovparent.com.