A Santa-buster won't lie to his children
... and a reader responds by sharing a lovely lie
Dear Friends: Today’s newsletter features a recent example of Santa-busting that ran in my advice column.
When this question came in, I admit that it brought forth an irrational rage. This anger bubbled up from some secret pocket of feeling I didn’t even know I possessed.
Why? Because I love Santa.
My love for the Santa story cannot be squelched. And I know this for sure because I have been to New York City many many times during “Santacon,” when the sidewalks are flooded with drunken and disgusting partiers, all dressed as Santa.
My point is that if I can emerge from exposure to Santacon and still tolerate a shred of Santa, then the love must be real.
Here’s the Q and A. It is followed by one of many charming responses I received — this one from a reader whose family worked very hard to bring Santa into their household, and to keep him there through tough times.
Dear Amy: I live in a country that celebrates a tradition that I am, at best, uneasy with. It involves a bizarre ritual by which parents of small children routinely lie to them about the existence of an elderly domestic intruder who supposedly brings small chocolate statues of himself along with toys and gifts once a year (spoiler alert: the parents buy this stuff).
These are otherwise reasonable people who do their best to teach honesty, good communication, integrity and good values to their children.
I’ve assimilated well to the point that I, too, am complicit in this charade, along with almost all my neighbors, friends, colleagues, and all their relatives.
I want to teach my kids about the shamanic origins of this intriguing but overly caricatured figure, instead of fat-shaming him with cookies and milk (seriously).
It’s important for me to keep (or at least regain) my kids’ trust despite this betrayal.
How do I come clean to my kids, who are 7 and 4 and have grown to embrace this tradition?
– No Gaslight
Dear Gaslight: You seem to be saying that in addition to everything else that's wrong about the Santa story, offering cookies and milk to a fat man who doesn't exist is part of the problem. Sigh.
And the "shamanic origins" of the Santa story? An internet search that I can now never erase from my brain offers up this idea: That early shamans tripping on hallucinogenic mushrooms imagined flying reindeer racing across the night sky.
You are aware that MANY children and families in Western cultures do not celebrate Christmas? And that other children from families that celebrate Christmas leave Santa out of it? And that some who don’t celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday do the Santa Thing anyway?
My point is that no one is zip-tying you to Santa.
But one aspect of parenting that you might not understand is that lying is baked into the deal. We tell our children, "I loved your recorder solo!" "Tired? I'm not tired; I just need to rest my eyes." "Sure, I'd love to play another round of Candyland!"
The Santa story is a benign part of childhood that children quickly outgrow. Your older child will decode the Santa story first, and might choose to maintain the mystery for the younger child's enjoyment. That's what my elder siblings did, anyway – and I'm grateful.
If you want to walk away from the Santa story, tell your children that this is a "once upon a time" story that many children enjoy, but that you've decided to go ahead and celebrate the winter holiday without it, and it will still contain magic and fun surprises for all of you.
For a still-fresh take on the magic of the “giving season” without Santa, read Charles Dickens’ 1848 classic, “A Christmas Carol” aloud to your children.
Below is the response I received, shared with the permission of its author. It was written by Lynn L, and describes a wonderful Santa tradition maintained by generations of her family.
“Dear Amy: The real meaning in Santa Claus lies within the wonderful, selfless, devoted parents who allow a mystical old white bearded superhero to capture all the attention for special gifts that they work hard to provide.
They expect no thanks. The look of awe on their children’s faces live within them forever. That is the greatest lesson that grows from childhood into adulthood for us believers as we realize the sacrifice and the extraordinary measures our parents took to get us there.
My brother and I grew up in a tiny rental home. We were by no means wealthy, though we never knew that. From as far back as I can remember, Santa Claus made his way to our house on Christmas Eve. He didn’t come down our chimney (thank goodness, because he would have found himself in a sooty monstrosity of a wood stove in my dad’s workshop).
Santa walked through our front door like clockwork at 8:30pm every Christmas Eve, dragging two white sheets filled up with presents and each tied with a red ribbon for my brother and me.
These gifts were the things we had put on our lists to Santa; the presents from our parents were wrapped and under our tree.
I look back and wonder why we never questioned this, but we were believers … big believers.
My grandpa held the reindeer reins for a good part of my childhood and passed this tradition on to my father, who then passed it on to my oldest of 16 cousins — who then handed it down to my brother. It was he who donned the Santa suit and took the Christmas Eve trips to pick up the white sheets tied with red ribbon waiting in the dark at the edge of everyone’s driveway in order to hand deliver them to our younger cousins.
It was an important job in our family, and he was thrilled to finally have the Santa suit hanging in his closet. (Lynn’s story continues below)
(image credit: Pixelshot via Canva)
“When I was grown with children of my own, it was still my brother who arrived like clock work at 8:30PM on Christmas Eve at my house, until one Christmas my middle son blurted out in his raspy little voice..”WHY is Uncle Glenn always missing when Santa visits us?”
The reins were then passed on to a circle of family with a particular purpose to successfully preserve the secret of Santa for as long as we could for our children. When my oldest was in high school, the reins were passed on to him, and the old Santa suit made its way back to our family.
It was our son’s turn to make the rounds to a new generation of children in our family, and spread the magic of Christmas. And it was our turn to celebrate our Christmas Eve when his work was done.
No child in our entire family ever spilled the secret when they grew out of it by 10 or 11 years old.
It wasn’t until I was pregnant for our first born, and I was looking back at a Christmas picture of me at five-years-old with a very special pair of shoes on that I realized the magnitude of creativity, love, devotion and selfless work that went into those Christmas Eve’s with Santa, and I knew in a heartbeat that this was the kind of mother I wanted to be.
It was 1966 and my dad was laid off from his job at the wire mill right before Christmas. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t good.
My mama was crying, and there was a lot of whispering and hushed voices. I heard her say, “… but the kids need coats and boots, they've outgrown everything.”
A few days after that on a cold December afternoon, my mother and I walked down Main Street hand in hand. Snow was falling lightly, the store fronts were lit up, and the sidewalks were filled with shoppers. We window shopped and stood outside the only shoe store in our small town.
She was looking at the winter boots, and I was gasping excitedly over a pair of shiny black patent leather ballet shoes with white pearl buckles.
I jumped up and down: ”Oh Mama … those! I want those beautiful shoes.”
She bent down and she said gently “Daddy lost his job. We don’t have extra money for things like that.”
I replied confidently: ”It’s OK, Mama. Don’t be sad. Santa will bring them. I’ll put them on my list!” She wiped the tears off her face and said, “Sometimes Santa only brings things we really need.”
My brother and I didn’t notice the lack of gifts under the tree that year, or that most of them were homemade by my mom and dad. This included a beautiful wooden cradle my dad made (I still have it), new dolly clothes my mother made, a boat for my brother, salt Playdough, etc.
At 8:30 sharp on Christmas Eve, Santa arrived with his white bundles, and as mine spilled open, those glorious shoes were right on top.
I shrieked excitedly: "Mama, I told you that Santa would bring them!”
It brought tears to my eyes all those years later, as I was preparing for motherhood, to think of how selfless and generous my parents were to allow Santa to take credit for our most wanted gifts when they were struggling to provide a Christmas for us. Every child should know the magic of Santa so they can appreciate the magic of parents, and know a truly selfless love.
A True Believer
Dear Readers: I’ll share one more story via your in-box before Christmas Day — and I hope that these stories remind you to slow down and enjoy your winter holiday — however you celebrate — remembering that the real gifts are in those moments of peace and hope we experience and share.
I’d love to hear your own holiday stories and traditions — please share them in the comments section.
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