Even before Thanksgiving begins, Christmas looms above our heads. For two whole months, Christians and atheists alike sing seasonal songs, buy trees, and dangle lights from their rooftops. For kids, the joy of Christmas is wrapped up in one mythical character who can eat endless amounts of cookies and squeeze down chimneys without getting a hint of soot on his shiny, red suit: Santa Claus.
I never introduced the idea of Santa Claus to my son, who is now four. When he was two-and-a-half, he learned about Santa at daycare; they read stories about him and painted pictures. I had not decided whether I wanted Santa to be a part of our Christmas ritual, but it seemed the choice wasn’t up to me. Everywhere, and from a very young age, kids are taught about this magically large man who flies around the globe in a single night bringing toys to girls and boys. Knowledge of him is expected, from commercials on TV, to the art projects at school, to the dressed-up figures at the mall. We force Santa on our kids even when they’re terrified of him, their eyes filled with tears when they’re placed on his strange, red lap. My son was so horrified by Santa that first year that as Christmas drew nearer he began to have nightmares about him. My husband and I had to think fast, explaining that Santa was like the UPS man – he’d just drop the packages at the back door, and we’d be sure to bring them in the house and place them under the tree. Secretly I cursed Santa Claus and hoped that his little cottage in the North Pole would soon sink into nonexistence.
This upcoming Christmas is going to be the last one where I dangle the dirty myth of Santa before my children’s eyes. Once we’re into the cold of February and Christmas seems a distant memory, I’m going to come clean about the big guy. I’m going to tell my kids that there used to be a man named Nicholas who gave presents to poor kids and that every year we celebrate his generosity by giving to others, but that “Santa Claus” is as real as Mickey Mouse or Jack and the Beanstalk. I’ll explain to them why, when Christmas comes around, we all like to pretend he exists. While it may be a hard truth for my son to hear, and confusing for my yet-to-talk two-year-old, I think the timing is right for my family. Hopefully, enough time will have passed from the holiday to keep their hearts from breaking. I hope so, because I’m tired of lying to my kids, of letting them believe something that our culture has pushed upon us. As an educator, I teach my students to question convention and I think my children deserve the same. If you’re still letting your kids hold onto the Santa myth and are uncomfortable about it, here are 7 reasons that might help you decide to come clean:
Kids have far better imaginations than adults give them credit for
Kids read stories, watch superheroes battle enemies on cartoons, and pretend that all manner of things exist in their daily lives. Why should we think that taking away Santa will destroy them? We don’t tell our kids that Batman really is watching them when they’re throwing a tantrum, we don’t perpetuate falsehoods like the existence of Cinderella and Spiderman – and yet kids still love those figures.
Old, white-haired men are not that generous
(Just look at our Congress. Do any of those busy men seem jolly?) If we’re honest, we’d probably admit that in most families, it’s moms who do most of the Christmas preparation: buying the presents, collecting the lists, wrapping gifts, and baking cookies. (Dads have the job of building things on Christmas morning.) So this Santa thing just feels like another job for which women go unrecognized.
It’s not about the presents
The wonder of Christmas is not in the getting; it’s in the giving. At a time of year when Christians (and non-Christians) are reflecting on hope and love, we tell our children to make lists of the gifts they want. Of course we want to show our love by making our children feel special, but when we make the focus of Christmas about getting presents from a hypertensive old man, kids lose the meaning and the magic. It would be much more effective to have your kids give a gift to someone who is less fortunate rather than make a wish list. In addition, kids should have a more realistic sense of just how much money parents spend on those toys under the tree.
He makes liars out of us
The myth of Santa Claus requires parents to lie, over and over – something we teach our kids to never do. Sure, all parents lie to their children at some time or another – “No, we’re all out of cookies. You’ll have to eat an apple”- but there is no other lie so culturally accepted and perpetuated as the myth of Santa Claus. And because Santa begat a few other creatures – the Easter Bunny (utterly silly) and the Tooth Fairy (a truly independent woman) – we end up lying to our children all year; and the lie gets bigger and bigger. There’s also the story of his wife, the reindeer, and the elves (who manufacture toys with Mattel and Fisher Price logos). We have to cover our tracks by hiding presents. We answer questions about the myriad Santas dangling bells outside the local supermarket. We eat the cookies and carrots we’ve left out (as though Santa hasn’t had enough already). We find ourselves having to make up stories as to why Santa doesn’t go to the homes of Jews or Muslims or why some kids get more presents than others. We’re telling so many lies, it seems awfully hypocritical to expect our children to be honest with us.
Cut the middleman
I don’t want my kid to stop pushing his sister because he thinks he’ll get a gift for it. I want him to stop pushing his sister because it’s wrong. Since Santa is not actually watching (we are), we need to employ solid discipline practices all year round if we want our children to be well behaved. And honestly, have you ever given coal to your kid because she was “bad”? It’s just an empty threat (and they know it!).
Kids who don’t believe in Santa will still enjoy Christmas for all the reasons adults do
Most people enjoy the Christmas season for a number of reasons: cookies, decorating, exchanging gifts, reunions, and so on. More than just that, when kids give up on the dream of Santa, they can finally start to recognize the holiday for what it was originally intended to be – a time for giving to those in need.
Materialism begets materialism
Our culture has become increasingly materialistic in the past century. Children used to be content with receiving a stocking full of toys and now they expect a stocking and a floor covered in gifts. We used to complain about Christmas sales starting the day after Thanksgiving, and now retailers proudly show off their Christmas displays on November 1st. (Unfortunately for them, Thanksgiving is not a marketable holiday.) Why should we max out our credit cards and assume that gifts and toys are the key to happy children? I doubt those are really the values we want to instill in them.
Santa makes a nice story, but pretending he really exists and visits our homes should be a relic of the past. For too long we have put too much stock in the gifts that are exchanged on Christmas, and not enough in the magical simplicity of being near family and friends and reflecting on years past as this one comes to a close. I welcome Santa’s existence, but only as a symbol for generosity and not as a magic genie. Kids, it’s time to grow up.
Holiday hero or horrible lie? Our brightest bloggers get into a Santa smackdown – join the debate here!