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So About This Santa Claus…

Taylor Hengen Newman

Did you believe in Santa when you were a kid? I’m guessing that most of us did, at least we did if our families enacted the whole Santa ritual, with the lists, cookies, stockings and whatnot. My family did this, and I have fond memories of waking up at five a.m. on Christmas mornings, running downstairs with my brother and taking stock of our loot (which kept us conveniently occupied while my parents slooooowly got out of bed, ate breakfast, drank coffee and then finally made their way to the living room so we could get to the goods under the tree… I can see the method behind the madness, now that I’m a mom). The thing is, I don’t remember actually believing in Santa. But I do remember pretending to believe in Santa, for my parents’ benefit. Like, there we all were playing up this cookies for—and presents from—Santa thing. Who was I to point out that he had the same handwriting as my mom? Everyone seemed to be having so much fun with the whole fantasy that I went along with it, “Yeah… Santa!” so as not to burst the bubble of enjoyment that my parents clearly savored over my apparent innocence to the fact that reindeer don’t fly.

 I also remember Santa’s existence being a topic of hot debate in, say, second grade or so. The kids were onto the act, and finally a semi-fundamentalist Christian friend (whose family felt Santa was a marketing scheme that distracted from the true meaning of the holiday— a valid opinion for the very religious, no doubt) laid it out for all on the playground who cared to hear that Santa was not, in fact, real. This is probably the age at which most kids figure it out, but I wonder now if some of those kids actually still believed in the guy and felt disappointed, heartbroken or even betrayed. I recall just finding the whole thing fascinating, and wondering what the deal was with the grown-ups creating this myth in the first place. I mean, adults LOVE Santa Claus, do we not? He’s a sentimental figure that, for many of us, personifies this whole jolly season. I like a good Norman Rockwell as much as the next girl, but, even so, now that Kaspar’s almost two and a TOTAL sponge, I found myself wondering this year whether we were going to tell him about Santa or not. Which surprised me. But there it is.

Kaspar had a super fun Christmas last year, tearing open his presents and feeding off of our excitement (“First Christmas!!! YYAAAAY!”). He didn’t have any context to understand what we were doing, but he dug it. We read The Grinch and The Night Before Christmas, and he enjoyed those books as much as he does all books, but I don’t think he really picked up on the Santa thing to a strong degree. We never got around to putting those books ‘away for next year,’ so he’s actually read them many, many times over now that it’s December again. Even so, we’ve had a crazy busy fall and haven’t yet decorated (we’re getting a tree today), gone to the mall for a sitting with the big guy (kind of avoiding that, actually… I hate malls), or talked Christmas up much at all. But, since we’re getting the tree and have a few holiday parties on the calendar in the coming weeks, I’m thinking we either need to do this thing, or officially decide to go silent on Santa until next year, when we’ll weigh the options again.

I didn’t expect to experience this hesitation (I’m even dancing around it in writing this post… Are you wondering ‘what’s your problem, Taylor?!’ yet?). But since Kaspar’s not yet hearing about Santa in school-- the toddler set is, across the board, kind of clueless-- I haven’t had to talk about it. So if I do talk about it, that’ll be a deliberate move. “Hey, Kaspar… Santa’s coming. We don’t have a chimney, so I guess he’s going to walk in the front door while we’re all sleeping, and leave a bunch of presents here. Which isn’t creepy at all.” And once I’ve told him this story, do I just roll with it until he asks me if I’ve been lying, or, in the event that he pulls a move like I did, keep rolling with it long past his silent disillusionment sets in?

Perhaps I’m over-thinking this. The fact is, I’m not quite sure where I stand on it. We’re not religious (I’m a laid-back Buddhist by default), so I’m not worried about watering down the true meaning of Christmas. And I love the parties, foods, songs, lights and decorating that take place at this time of year… This is not a bah-humbug moment at all. I don’t want to raise Kaspar up with a cold, hard line of “There is no Santa. It’s a culturally sanctioned lie,” but I’m thinking we might hold off another year, celebrate Christmas in our low-key way at home and wait and see what kinds of questions might spark the Santa convo down the road. I plan to expose Kaspar to all kinds of traditions from a wide range of faiths, and maybe even make a winter solstice celebration the centerpiece of our family's holiday festivities in the future. I might just tell Kaspar that Santa is a fun Christmas character, that some children believe he’s real, and that we can still hang our stockings while knowing Santa's part of a story. Kids easily walk the line between what’s real and imaginary all the time. Perhaps allowing Kaspar the insight that what’s magic about Christmas is that all people, young and old, love to imagine, will maintain the special parts of Christmas without requiring I uphold a farce… and without ‘leaving him out’, or prematurely jaded, as a result of my honesty.

But then, if he comes home from school (or the supermarket or one of the many other places where Santa is promoted) with the assumption that the dude in the sleigh is coming our way… no questions asked… I might go for it and pretend, for his sake, until he doesn’t want me to anymore.

What’s your take on Santa? Are you all for it? Have any of you hesitated to tell your kids Santa’s real? How do you plan to handle it—or how have you done so—if and when your kids start asking questions? For those of you who don't celebrate Christmas, how have you talked to your kids about Santa, given that other children believe in him? I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this!