“Is Santa real?” That is the question of the season. On its heels: “Does he really come down the chimney?” “Do reindeer really fly?” “Is the same Santa that makes all the presents the one who is at the mall?” “What are elves?”
And thus, the dilemma presents itself to parents each year: to tell the truth or not.
(Credit: Norman Rockwell Source: SeriousPuzzles.com)
In six Christmases, I’ve chosen to stand on the literal side of the fence. Santa Claus isn’t a real man that comes down your chimney (okay, that’s just a bit creepy of a thing to have children thinking anyway, isn’t it, really?), living in the coldest place on earth, with a bunch of small workers called elves, riding an enormous magical sleigh pulled by flying reindeer all around the world in one night to every child’s home and leaving them presents based on his determination of year-round childhood “badness” or “goodness” (heck, we even avoid those judgment calls in our daily parenting). I just don’t like to tell my kids that he IS, when – he’s not.
Now, I don’t say things to my children things like, “Other kids’ parents tell them that Santa is real but it’s really just THEM giving their kids presents”. I don’t want my kids to be the “revealer of parental untruths” to children whose parents may be riding the Santa-is-real train. I’m not out to squash the spirit of Santa. Really, the spirit of Santa is okay with me. It’s more the concocting layers of false “evidence” (cookies half eaten, left by the fireplace, “footprints” in the snow, etc.), in order to convince children (who by their very nature are very literal and want to believe their parents) of the really realness of Santa, that rubs me the wrong way. I prefer to just treat him as part of the holiday landscape that he is, without creating stories; without eroding trust.
When direct questions about his realness come up, I turn the conversation to them – allowing them to formulate their own opinions, like:
Question: Does Santa deliver all the presents in one night?
Answer: Do you think that’s possible to do? How many kids are there in the world? How big is the world? How fast would he have to fly to make that possible?
Question: Does Santa come down everyone’s chimney?
Answer: Does everyone have a chimney? What about kids who don’t?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a Scrooge. I really do love Christmas; it’s my favorite holiday. I enjoy decorating, putting up the tree, singing Christmas songs, buying and making gifts for people, and baking cookies (especially baking cookies!). Christmas is warm and magical and wonderful.
But what I don’t like about Christmas is the untruthful-business surrounding all-things-Santa: the acceptance, even expectation, that lying to children at this time of year is appropriate and encouraged (I’ve had strangers come up to my children and warn them they’d “better be good this year, or Santa won’t bring them anything for Christmas”, followed by a knowing wink to me). I’m simply not comfortable with telling my children that being truthful is important – only to lie to them about Santa.
Telling children Santa is real might be festive, magical, fun, or even helpful to shape behavior around the holidays, but to me, the cost of wrapping the fun of the holiday in a package of deception isn’t one I’m willing to take on, just for the sake of not killing the magic.
Christmas IS magical because of actual, real things: picking the most perfect present for someone you love and watching their eyes light up when they open it on Christmas morning. Christmas IS magical when you’re listening to Enya singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel and you get chills. Christmas is magical when you’re walking around in the crisp, frosty air, look at the Christmas lights twinkling in the newly fallen snow. Christmas IS magical when you wake in the morning to beautifully wrapped presents under the tree and the smell of cinnamon.
I don't want my children to experience the let down of “finding out the truth”. I want them to always have real reasons to look forward to Christmas morning, even beyond the age of Santa belief, real reasons to behave, and above all, real knowledge that when their parents tell them about something, they can trust it, and believe it. So this year, like others, I’ll treat Santa as another adornment of Christmas – just like the tree, the lights, the stockings, the presents, and the music. All of these things can be magical – are magical – without the baggage of untruth.
So, how do you handle the Santa dilemma? Are you a Santatheist? Or do you convince your children that Santa is real?