Santa: Keeping the Magic, but Losing the Lies
December 1st, 2012
We talked to Miss Mouse about Santa Claus tonight. And although the phrase “he’s not real” didn’t come out of my mouth exactly, that was the gist of the conversation.
The issue has been building in our house and in my heart for some time and I felt like we needed to address it.
I know that The Santa Debate is huge, with passionate defenders on both sides. Let me say up front that I certainly don’t think that families who choose to go all-in with Santa are harming their kids — I have fond memories of huddling under a blanket with my cousin on Christmas Eve long after the parents were in bed, gazing at the clock on the thermostat and wondering if this would be the year when we’d get a peek at the magic reindeer.
But for lots of reasons, I ultimately decided I needed to be upfront with my kids about Santa. Those reasons include:
- Santa’s potential to eclipse Jesus as the Reason for the Season (issue #1 for my hubs);
- The way that the Santa myth can hinder kids’ understanding of holiday philanthropy;
- The disgusting amount of commercialism surrounding Santa, whose overarching message in advertising today is “gimme gimme gimme” ;
- The inherent untruthfulness involved in embracing Santa with your family.
Some of those are self-explanatory, but let me hit briefly on the philanthropy thing as it only came to my attention this year. Santa’s world-wide largess started to bug me when I heard several friends report that they’d had trouble “selling” their kids on participating in Operation Christmas Child because the kids couldn’t understand the concept of a gift-less Christmas. After all, Santa magically delivers presents to every kid in the world. Ergo, there are no children who don’t have gifts. So why are we packing up shoe boxes again?
Good point, kids.
But mostly, my beef with Santa is in the lies. Oh, the lies.
Look, I’m not going to pretend that I never lie to my kids. I’ve told them that we didn’t have cookies when really I just didn’t want to share mine. And I’ve said that certain obnoxious toys “broke” when really I took out their batteries. I’m a mom. We do that.
But something about the systematic web of falsehood that accompanies the Santa story bugged me. My daughter is so trusting and so believing, I had a hard time making myself say the necessary fibs when the topic came up. It just made me feel yucky.
Miss Mouse isn’t even old enough to be asking pointed questions. But she DOES say things like: “Santa is going to bring me presents!”
You can’t remain neutral in that moment. Either you say, “yes, he is” which isn’t true, or you say “no, he isn’t” which requires explanation. Or she’ll innocently ask: “Mommy, how does Santa know what I want for Christmas?” Taking on the role of Switzerland in the Santa wars is not an option.
So what to do about Santa? I decided that I want to embrace the magic on an even playing field – one in which all players know there’s a game afoot. I love Santa traditions like stockings and cookies and reindeer food sprinkled on the lawn. I find all of that stuff completely and utterly magical. I want my daughter to feel the same way, without being duped.
Tonight, we watched the Veggie Tales video about St. Nicholas and talked to Miss Mouse about Santa. The message was this: Santa is a fun pretend game. Sometimes we pretend that we’re princesses in a castle. Sometimes we pretend to be ponies. Sometimes we pretend to be hair stylists. And sometimes we pretend that Santa Claus comes to our house with flying reindeer, bringing presents.
We actually didn’t go too much into St. Nicholas with Miss Mouse because the addition of a historical character seemed to confuse the narrative a bit and I could tell she wasn’t making the leap from St. Nicholas to Santa Claus. We just talked about what we thought was most important at Christmas — Jesus, family, and the fun things we do together during the season.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure she “got” it. I understand that. At her age, the line between “real” and “pretend” is extremely porous. Although I’ve never asked, it’s entirely possible she believes that Ariel and Belle are “real” too.
But at the end of the day, I believe Santa can be fun and magical without being “real.” At least I hope so.