The belief in Santa Claus was always a cherished part of my childhood Christmases – that is, until the age of 7 when I went looking for something in our basement and found all the Christmas gifts stashed in a closet. So when I had my own children, I made Santa a part of their magical Christmases as well.
Some people refuse to perpetuate the Santa Claus myth with their children for religious reasons. Others feel that it’s not right to lie to your children. I have no problem lying to my kids if it’s for their own good. For instance, I would tell them that I would always be there for them, something I had no way of knowing for sure.
But there are some problems with the whole Santa thing. The most obvious one is the plethora of Santas kids see around the holidays. “Oh, those are just Santa’s helpers,” we lamely explain. As children get older, we have to resort to all kinds of subterfuge to keep the myth intact: separate “Santa wrapping paper” and disguised handwriting on the gift tags, ever more remote hiding places for gifts, mysterious late night shopping trips so that our kids don’t spy us buying what they asked Santa for.
Inevitably, our best laid plans go awry. After one frenzied shopping trip while my kids were at school, I didn’t have time to get the toys out of the car before picking them up. I threw some blankets over them in the cargo section of the car, but my son got a glimpse of the cool Star Wars toy he had asked for. When he confronted me, I stammered something about how I had picked it up for my sister-in-law to give to his cousin. He saw right through that.
The hardest part about Santa for me, though, has been trying to explain why Santa doesn’t come to every house on Christmas. This came up in the context of friends and relatives who didn’t “do” Santa in their family. It also came up because a regular part of our Christmas tradition has been to help needy families by donating clothes and toys for them at Christmas. The unavoidable question would come up, “Why doesn’t Santa Claus come to their houses too, Mom?”
I resorted to telling my kids that we had to pay Santa for the gifts, so people who didn’t have enough money wouldn’t be able to get any. Even as I came up with this terrible explanation, I knew it was painting Santa as some mercenary figure instead of the benevolent guy who spreads Christmas cheer all around. I’ve since learned some useful techniques parents use to get around that question. Only their most wanted gift comes from Santa, and the rest of the gifts are from Mom and Dad. Or Santa, like the Magi, brings three gifts to each child on Christmas.
Yet the belief in Santa, as magical as it is, has been a source of stress for me as the kids grew. I will never forget how angry my husband was at me when my nine-year-old daughter demanded to know whether Santa was real or not. As soon as I admitted that he was a myth, she broke down crying, and I hated the loss of innocence she experienced.
I’m glad Santa Claus is no longer a part of our Christmas celebrations. And of course, once the belief in Santa is lost, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy go down like dominoes. There are some benefits. For example, my older kids would always say they felt bad not being able to thank my husband and me directly for their gifts. And we still cultivate secrecy and magic. The gifts don’t go under the tree until all the kids are asleep.
The trouble with Santa is that as the kids stop believing in him, it’s clear that they are moving away from the magic of childhood to the reality of the adult world. And that is a bittersweet realization indeed.