Monday, December 14, 2009

Santa Claus

I have issues with Santa Claus.
This might not be the right time of year to talk about it, but when else? I realize that Santa Claus is a happy symbol - magic of Christmas, giving, childhood - something along those lines. Really, it's just fun for the adults to create a story of magic and fun for kids to fantasize. There have always been some aspects of the Santa fantasy that have bothered me, though. I can't seem to really talk about it out loud without getting snapped at by someone, as though I've kicked the poor dude in the shins, or worse.

When my daughter was born, I needed to make some decisions about how to handle the Santa issue. Her father and I decided that in our house Santa would only fill a Christmas stocking and all the presents would come from us. This was in an effort to keep our daughter from believing that expensive material objects arrived in the house by magic. I just didn't think it was fair to set her up for that disappointment.
One family member, in whose household Santa dropped three vulgar piles of wonderful things, said, "Well, you just want all the credit."
Hmmm. Yes...And?

The other issue was my memory of when I, as a child, realized Santa was probably bogus. In that transition period, when I had to admit to myself that the whole Santa thing just didn't make sense, I was confused. I sort of believed, I sort of didn't - like the boy in the Polar Express. Unfortunately, a magic train didn't pull up outside among the palm trees. Instead, I watched the behavior of the adults and made my assessment. My parents didn't talk about it too much, and when I started doubting, I didn't talk about it too much either. Some of my uncles and aunts would talk about "Santy" in a kind of tongue and cheek way that I think maybe made them feel better about it. It all became a game of who knows what, with the ultimate concern being, for me as a child, "Will I stop getting presents if I say I don't believe?" That may have been my first experience with real greed. It felt kind of bad.

So, my husband and I talked it over and decided that we could allow our daughter the fun of the Santa fantasy, with minimum psychological damage, if we just did only the stocking thing. After all, wasn't that what Santa traditionally did in the beginnings of Santa? He stuffed the socks drying at the fireplace, or put things in the wooden shoes outside the door?

Then, there was my father's perspective. Orderly Alton, I called him. He was a bah-humbug kind of guy. He never was a materialistic person in the sense of desiring to accumulate possessions. Everything had to have a usefulness or a sentimental value. If he bought something, he got rid of something. I'm sure he was a child once. I've seen pictures. But, by the time I got to know him, he was not a fan of Christmas, and his references to "Santy Claus" always conjured up a feeling of goofiness. When I decided to discuss with him the plan about how to handle Santa with my daughter, to insure everyone was on board, he jumped right on it. He praised my decision and even said I should go farther and not do it at all. Of course, I wanted to know why. His childhood memory of Santa Claus didn't include shame about greed at all. His memory was that of betrayal. He said, "When I figured out that Santa wasn't real and saw how easy it was for adults to lie, it bothered me. I figured if they could lie about that, they could lie about other things, too."
So, that was factored in.
My daughter's father and I decided that we would just do the stocking from Santa, but we wouldn't make a big deal about it. We did get a few pictures taken, when she was willing to go near him, and they are adorable. All was well until she grew old enough to compare what she got from Santa to what other kids got.

Question: "Why does 'Sally' get a computer and a bicycle and a TV from Santa and I only get a stocking?"
Answer: "Because we get your presents so Santa doesn't have to."

I don't know when she finally decided that she didn't believe in it anymore, but I know it wasn't traumatic, and Christmas didn't lose any magic. She sort of just took on the role of a participant. At some point she confided in her grandmother that she knew Santa wasn't real, but she didn't want to take away my fun with it. My fun?

It's been many years since all of that transpired. My daughter, at 21 years old, is graduating this Saturday with her BA in psychology. She is the most pragmatic and stable person I know. She's expressed gratitude many times for how the Santa issue was handled. I breathe a sigh of relief, because who can know these things? You do what you think is best and maybe it's right or maybe it isn't.

But, man-oh-man - I wouldn't be able to tell this story out loud to very many people without getting shouted down. It's amazing how protective some folks are of this tradition. Most people I've talked to about it claim that Santa just made them happy as a child and they don't remember anything about the transition of believing to not believing. One day they figured it out, and they kept pretending until everyone figured out that they were pretending and everyone else was pretending and it was all good and everyone laughed.

So, now, as a librarian in an elementary school, I am faced with protecting everyone's traditions by not talking about it too much. One time, one of my favorite students, a boy from China, blurted out, "Santa is fake!" I had to quickly fix it with, "Not everybody wants Santa to come to their house." I gave him a subtle look that he understood, I'm sure, to mean we know the truth, but we have to be nice. He came to me in the springtime to ask why everyone talks about leprechauns and pots of gold at the end of rainbows. He knew the scientific facts about rainbows. I told him it was just for fun; that people like to pretend. He said it was still silly.
I guess he showed me, God love him, what it's like to live with no fairytale magic at all.


  1. Well, I believe in life we always try to do what we believe to be best. None of us have all the answers & whether we're "right or wrong" doesn't matter as much as our consistency.

    I still believe in Santa because to me Santa is about love & magic. I truly believe there's magic in the world & I also believe that miracles happen everyday.

    To me the spirit of Santa collectively lifts us all to a better place. In the way the article "Yes Virgina there is a Santa Claus" was written.

    I also belief that there's room in this world for people to believe whatever they want to believe. My life is about inclusion not exclusion. I want to listen & learn from everyone. Once I've learned I want to understand because through understanding we can grow together in this world.

    Thank you for sharing,