My mom was the most magical Santa when we were growing up. It literally took me 12 years to realize that her handwriting was exactly the same as his, because I believed so strongly in this friendly, warm, and charismatic fat guy that loved eating the cookies I left him, and left me presents in return for my kindness. I really enjoyed the idea of Santa as a magical entity- and I still do, even though I know by now that he’s not a living person.
I knew as I grew how the religious origin of Christmas was both entwined and separate from the Santa and reindeer bit, but for me they always overlapped – I was always mesmerized with the story of Rudolph, how his nose that got him teased and laughed at actually made a difference when the foggy Christmas Eve came . . . and I remember thinking at the same time of how Jesus came into this world as a little tiny baby in a stinky manger next to a cow – but he was the son of God and saved us all. It was all very fluid and wondrous to me.
I feel like the belief in something magical and happy is what Santa is really about . . . people that take Santa as a rule enforcer, or use Santa to threaten the punishment of no toys on Christmas as a part of their disciplinary tactics just ruin it for everybody. Santa Claus is Coming To Town is supposed to be a FUNNY, sarcastic song – not a literal warning. Christmas, even if you celebrate a totally secular Christmas, is all about magic and splendor, and enjoying one another’s company – and not at all about fearing Santa Claus.
Wrong. Apparently, without my knowledge, Santa has gone from being a jolly, magical fat guy who loves everybody to becoming a parenting tool – used by parents to cajole their children into behaving for fear that Santa might not bring them what they want if they don’t. My friend Dionna’s post “We Don’t Do Santa” over at Code Name Mama left me a bit jaw dropped when I read it.
I want Kieran to be able to trust us, and lying to him about Santa would be a breach of that trust in my eyes . . too often Santa emphasizes the spirit of receiving more than he does the spirit of giving. Think about it – we sit our children on Santa’s lap to talk about what they want to get. We have kids make lists of what they want under the tree. In the weeks before Christmas, kids are overwhelmed with consumerist crap . . . We do not want Christmas to be an orgy of gimme gimme gimme.”
Over-Commercialism= Bad. Magic of Christmas = Good.
What really astounded me when I read her post was the fact that she had to write it at all – the fact that our society has gotten so distracted from the real spirit of Christmas, and the real spirit of children as imaginative beings, that even the most wonderful parents among us are choosing to teach their children that Santa is not real from the very beginning – in order to avoid negatively imprinting them.
I, however, have no fears of negatively imprinting my children by talking to them about Santa as if he were a living person. My brother and I never feared that Santa wouldn’t bring us gifts as children, nor did we get upset if we didn’t get what we wanted – because, growing up, it wasn’t about “if you are good, Santa will bring you the gifts you want” – it was more along the lines of Santa being a magical, jolly, guy who brings joy to all children around the world because they are so precious to him. Santa didn’t have anything to do with behavior for me.
To me, he was just a really cool guy that in my mind, I figured, was pals with God. Can’t you see Jesus riding with Santa in his sleigh? I totally imagined that as a kid. I mean, how do his Reindeer fly if it’s not an act of God?!
I looked forward to the feeling of Christmas morning itself more than I cared what was under the tree for me. It was about the magical experience for me, and it still is.
So I don’t think that the belief in Santa is a bad thing. I don’t buy into the argument about not lying to my children about Santa because I feel that taking away the magic of Santa and the ability for a child to wonder freely about the traditional stories (religious and secular) of Christmas is worse. But that’s because my mom didn’t manipulate Santa to try to guilt me into behaving. That wasn’t what it was about.
When I figured out that Santa was my mom, I thought I was SO clever for figuring it out, and more so that SHE was the most clever mom in the universe for having been the best santa EVER. I also wasn’t mad at my mom for lying to me. I didn’t think of it as lying at all. I just saw it as the end to a fun childhood game. . . I actually remember saying “You were a really good Santa!” to my mom.
How WE “Do Santa”
I am excited about following in my mom’s footsteps and being the best Santa I can be to my children. I won’t manipulate Santa to get “good” behavior – mostly because “good” and “bad” aren’t words we use in our house. We set limits, and we model appropriate behavior . . . I’ll guide Abbey if she is not being “nice” or “respectful” and I’ll tell her when she has been “sweet” or “kind” but I’ll never tell her she’s “bad” (or even “good” if I can help it )– I guess my only issue is going to be dealing with other children ruining Santa for my kids by telling them he’s not real. I haven’t figured out how to handle that yet except to tell them that they can believe in whatever they want to believe and they don’t need to do what everyone else is doing.
I asked my dad how to “do Santa” like he and mom did for us, and he said to get The Night Before Christmas and read it to Abbey because that’s “the only book about Santa” according to him – that there’s nothing else Abbey needs to know.
Funny . . . The Night Before Christmas doesn’t mention good or bad behavior at all. The good or bad, “naughty or nice” bit must have gotten added in later.
I can’t change the behavior of other parents, but I sure won’t tell my child not to believe in Santa just because other parents have tainted the magical game in their quest for “good” children. And I’ll let Lauren over at Hobo Mama elaborate on that subject. Her post on praising kids for being “good“ is awesome. Something that every parent should think about.
This article has been edited from a previous version published at Toddler In Tow on December 13, 2010