my best friend growing up was jewish and lived right next door. one day, when we were about five, we were
playing fighting on the bottom of the stairs at my home. we were fighting over some ridiculous santa book i had checked out from the library. in my ever-so tactful cool, i turned to her and said: “it’s too bad you’re jewish because santa won’t even stop at your house!” and this little girl, not missing a beat, turned to me and said: “santa isn’t even real” (herself not really wanting to believe it). if memory (or storytelling) serves me correct, i ran into the living room where my parents were sitting –no doubt listening and waiting to see how this whole five-year-old cat fight would go down– and burst out crying, asking them if it was true.
it was true. santa is not real. though, they were probably a little confused at my intense emotions since they had never told me he was real. they had only ever said he was our imaginary friend that helps us celebrate jesus’ birth. i took what i wanted to believe and ran with it. and though i’m sure they were casting looks of death over my shoulder at my friend for spilling the beans in that way, i assume they were a bit relieved the cat was out of the bag and i applaud them for not trying to continuously pull the wool over my eyes and perpetuate the santa myth. because, it turned out, christmas — and even santa– became no less magical to me now that i was in on the truth of the existence of santa. for a handful of years afterward i still insisted we put out milk & cookies, and i still sat on my dad’s or uncle’s lap when they dressed up as santa on christmas eve to pay a visit to our extended family dinner, and i still wondered just how it could even be possible for one man, real or otherwise, to visit every single home of christmas-celebrating families. just like i continued as a child to put my tooth under my pillow and sure as hell expected a gift from the “tooth fairy” who i knew full well was not real but played along… not just to get a gift but because i liked the idea of there being a little woman with wings who came and rewarded me for being so brave.
kids are so creative and imaginative. and christmas, santa or not, is an incredibly magical and special holiday/holy day. and i have come to firmly believe that pushing the santa agenda and not giving our kids a little more credit when they start asking questions or slowly figuring it out on their own, does a complete disservice to what this holiday is about and all the other important traditions that go along with it. i’ve heard stories of kids as old as ten (or even a 13 year old!) still believing in santa. and, frankly, that’s ridiculous. i do not understand one bit why parents insist on doing that to their children.
over a baby-free dinner out one night, jp and i discussed why santa won’t have a part in our family traditions (to be clear, ramona knows who santa “is” and has taken his photo on his lap [the creepiest santa i've ever seen]. we’re not barring santa from our lives completely, we just are not encouraging the myth in our personal traditions). here’s what we came up with:
- strangers are bad. unless they’re bearded and have presents. then go ahead and sit on their lap and tell them your secret wishes. this mostly pertains to the kids who are undeniably scared for their life and screaming to not go near that man or to get down off his lap right away and we stand there and laugh and say “it’s ok. go ahead. smile for my photo!” basically going against everything we’re working on teaching them about stranger danger and creepy adults to avoid. i know, i know — most kids know the difference between santa and the hypothetical weird man at the park. but the idea of going against your child’s better judgment and anxiety (when they’re sitting there pleading with you not to go near santa) for shits and giggles seems entirely disrespectful of our little one’s decisions and personal space. remember: your child is not a doll. trust your child’s intuition. (ironically, this didn’t seem to pertain to ramona bc this girl practically dove into santa’s lap with her older cousin. she wants to be friends with everyone. we may have to work on that…).
- the santa myth generally teaches kids that they ‘deserve’ these gifts for being good (don’t even get me started on the silliness of this elf on the shelf business). we want to teach ramona to know gifts as something given out of love, not earned. we want to teach her to have real gratitude, and the santa myth grossly distorts that notion.
- jp and i don’t like the idea of misleading our little ones, especially when they will certainly find out that we did it intentionally. there will be plenty of situations while our children are growing up where i’m sure we’ll tell partial truths to protect them or their innocence, but we hope we keep these to an absolute minimum. we want to be honest and transparent with our little ones. so when ramona comes to us and asks: is santa real? there is no way i’m going to figure out an even bigger lie to make sure the santa myth keeps going. if she’s old enough or wise enough or privy enough or curious enough to ask the question, we will honor that with the truth.
- the common response to what i said in the previous bullet point is that the whole santa thing is no big deal –lighten up, emily!– and santa just accentuates the joy and magic of christmas. but everything about ramona already attests to the strength of her imagination and awe in christmas, as it is, without santa. she’s in complete wonder at the christmas lights hung around town and loves baking and decorating christmas cookies with her diri and looks forward to seeing what’s on the advent calendar docket for the day and i can’t stop her from spinning and dancing around to our christmas albums. and she’s about to be blown away this weekend at a performance of the nutcracker. and on a daily basis, ramona pretends/imagines/creates magic at everything she does anyway: cooking, dancing, playing house, being an airplane or a turtle or a kangaroo, talking with her dollies, pretending to eat my kisses. ramona doesn’t need santa to feel “magic.” she’s got enough of that of her own and that’s what we want to encourage.
- my main reason? christmas gifts are something that take a lot of thought, time, and money on our part as parents. why oh why, especially as someone whose love language is gifts, would i give the credit to an imaginary figure? if santa is going to be responsible for a gift, it’s going to be the christmas eve pajamas.