Another Christmas is upon us, and I am totally dreading it. Our family is Jewish, and we usually just avoid the whole thing. But I don’t think we’re going to get away with that this year. Our almost-five-year-old asked about Santa Claus last year and we could brush it off. This year, she’s a lot more inquiring. My impulse is always to tell her the truth. I can’t bear to go along with the lie, especially when it’s a lie that excludes her from fun. Still, I don’t want her to traumatize her classmates by declaring Santa is a hoax. Any suggestions about how to deal with this situation? – Ho Humbug
We sympathize with your status as an x-mas outsider, and commend you on your intentions: It’s great that you want to be honest with your kids. It’s also great that you’re considering how other people might feel. Fortunately for you, there’s a range of options between going with flow and the hard cold facts.
The key here is subjectivity. You’re Jewish, which actually puts you at an advantage in some ways. Your position on Santa is easily explained. If your daughter asks, you can say, “Well, it’s not something we believe in, but Santa is something other people believe in.” Just because you also happen to believe that Santa is a figment of the consumerist imagination, doesn’t mean she needs to know that (not yet, anyway). Santa can be like anything else that falls outside the system of your beliefs.
You can talk about this time of year being a special time when gifts are exchanged, but that different people celebrate for different reasons and in different ways. Some do the Santa thing, some don’t. Some do carols. Some do prayers. (You’ll probably want to gauge the depth of your speech on your child’s attention span and taste for gory detail.)
While the primary purpose of said discussion is to reassure your daughter that she’s not missing out on any major gift ops, there’s a bigger and better purpose, too: to open up a discussion about tolerance using real-life examples of different people who believe different things. It may not be realistic to avoid discussion among five-year-olds about whether Santa exists. The goal is to guide that discussion into a respect for difference. No matter what you believe about Santa, it’s on all of us to teach the basic human value of respect. To each his own. Love thy neighbor . . . And isn’t that kind of what that other Christmas guy had in mind, anyway?
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