It was a warm day in early July, and I was standing in the kitchen when I was startled by a squeaky pubescent voice, "What's this!" When I turned, there was my almost-twelve-year-old son; standing with an air of confrontation. Matty had discovered the unique wooden box, the 'keep Santa Claus alive' poem, and the red velvet drawstring bag! And yes, (horror of my horrors) there lying in his flattened palm beyond his outstretched arm was Santa's monogrammed brass button with the broken gold thread. The jig was up! He had concrete evidence supporting what he had suspected for some time — that Santa Claus was NOT real!
Of course, as many dutiful parents often do, I attempted to keep the childhood magic of Santa Claus alive for as long as it was humanly possible to make an unreal entity seem real for my children! I am a bit hesitant to admit that publicly, given the fervor over this controversial topic in the parenting community right now. I've recently seen two Facebook post shut down because the discussions became too heated.
There seems to be a violent clash between those who see the myth of Santa Claus as lying to children and those who (like me) don't see any harm in pretend play with children. Apparently, Jacqueline Woolley, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas, Austin, also sees the merits of Santa Claus (and not just for children) as is evident from her recent article in the Huffington Post: 'Why the Whole Family Benefits When Kids Believe in Santa!'
So yes, we believed in Santa until my twins were almost twelve years old. I know that seems unheard of in modern times! It was probably easier for me to keep the ruse going than for most parents because we homeschooled — which nicely insulated my kiddos from the school bus banter and the playground chatter that often busts the more popular childhood myths; however, my children weren't one hundred percent gullible and naive either. There were some incidences throughout the years when they questioned the feasibility and validity of the Santa myth, but never at any time did any one of them come right out and ask, "Is Santa Claus real?" (This is how I got around the 'lying' to my children part and just had fun with the myth!)
• There was the time Matty was around ten, and he said to me, "When I have kids, I'm not going to buy them any Christmas presents one year, and then if there are no presents under the tree on Christmas morning, I'll know Santa's not real." Sheerly mystified by what I was hearing, I could only reply by saying, "Well Matty, that certainly is one way to outsmart Santa. I think?"
• And there was Meggie, only four-years-old at the time when she couldn't take her eyes off Santa's face at a Christmas party. She was inquisitively staring for a good reason — it was her uncle in costume. As little as she was, she knew there was something oddly familiar about Santa that year.
• Or the classic from Mikee when he was six-years-old, "How come Santa doesn't look the same at the mall as he does when he's at the library." Quickly thinking on my feet, I said, "That's because the Santa's you see before Christmas are only helpers, not the Santa that lives at the North Pole."
The Christmas before that dreadful July day, Matty and Meggie were eleven and Mikee was nine, and I surmised that the days of 'believing' were quickly coming to a close. So that year, Santa Clause's monogrammed brass button was to be my last ditch attempt to keep the magic alive. I purchased the button from a catalog, and the night before Christmas I set my plan into action. As my husband was taking a couple of bites from each of Santa's Christmas cookies, downing gulps of milk, and gathering up Rudolph's organic carrots — I carefully laid the button between the edge of the hearth and the Christmas tree, just beyond some wrapped gifts. I found the perfect spot — making sure it was set just right — where it was bound to be noticed, yet not look too conspicuously 'placed!'
The plan worked like a charm! On Christmas day, once the flurry of excitement from opening Santa's gifts settled down, Matty looked over and noticed something gold and shiny just under the Christmas tree. "What's that?" he cried out. I nonchalantly said, "What?" "That shiny gold thing?" he exclaimed. Excitedly he grabbed the button and began to study it intently. I asked, "What is it?" By this time the other two children had gathered around the peculiar brass button, and Meggie yelled, "It's a gold button with an 'S' and a 'C' on it!" Mikee chimed in, "That stands for Santa Claus — it's Santa's button!" I said, "Oh my! Do you suppose it fell off when he was delivering your gifts?" And Matthew, whose eyes were almost as big and shiny as that brass button just kept repeating over and over again, "He's real, he's real, he must be real!"
And that is how I squeezed one more magical Christmas out of childhood for my children. Nevertheless, my feelings that day in July were not made any less complicated for that extra year believing. I was still sad about it coming to an end and angry with myself for not hiding the button better! For a brief moment, I even felt frustrated with Matty for being in a drawer he shouldn't have been. And then I felt a bit ashamed of my frustration with Matty, and a little guilty for perpetuating the Santa myth one year too many. Not for lying — but for taking the game too far.
My three children and I had a long conversation that afternoon as we discussed who and what Santa Clause is. I explained that although Santa isn't a living, breathing human being in the same sense that we are, he does live (so to speak) in the hearts of those who believe in him. I revealed that the story of Santa is a myth and that Mommy wasn't lying about Santa, as much as she was pretending the story was real to make Christmas more fun. We also talked about the fact that Santa is a characterization or symbol, which embodies the meaning of Christmas in the spirit and tradition of giving. At the end of the conversation, all three of my children left the room, looking a little bit like the Christmas rug had been pulled out from under them. I sat there for a few minutes wondering if I had done irreparable emotional damage to any of them. My mind was racing through the Christmases past and trying to imagine what they would have been like without Santa. Coming out of my daze, I saw Mikee standing there, looking bewildered. "Mommy, what about the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the fairies that leave us presents in the garden — are any of them real?" I shook my head from side to side and solemnly said, "I'm sorry, they're not real either, buddy." "It's okay Mommy," Mikee said, "I thought probably, but I just wanted to be sure." At that moment, hearing that little glimmer of hope in Mikee's voice that he wasn't losing all his childhood fantasies in one fell swoop made me realize not one of them was a mistake. These family traditions were not only fun and fantastic imaginative play at the time, but now they have become part of the sweetest childhood memories that light the corners of their minds as young adults! For us, the tradition of inviting Santa Claus into the family was the right decision.
I can't argue that Santa Claus remains a controversial figure among many social scientists and parents. One group of parents goes as far as to call themselves the 'Kill Santa Movement' — which I think is a bit extreme! There are countless books on the subject too, including The Myths that Stole Christmas, which espouses the Santa legend to be damaging to children. The main argument is that Santa and his story are not truths — they are lies. Lies backed by good intentions, but lies nonetheless that will project the message that children can’t trust what their parents tell them. It goes on to say, that using the lies to encourage good behavior is manipulative and encourages children to behave for the wrong reasons and become manipulators themselves. Again — in my humble opinion, Santa is a myth (not a 'lie') based on creative, imaginative play. And — I agree, parents shouldn't be using Santa as a threat to encourage good behavior; however, many other things are used by parents to manipulate and reward children for good behavior — candy, toys, screen time, special treats, etc. Let's not blame Santa. Bribery is a parenting tactic (for better or for worse) that dates back centuries!
For me (like for so many other parents), when it came to Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and various garden fairies, I couldn't resist the temptation to create a magical, out-of-the-ordinary childhood. And why not? 'Tis but the shortest season in life, so why not make it as sweetest and most wondrous? And that is the first thing you're killing when you kill Santa — the wonder and magic of childhood.
I have already made it entirely clear that I won't go as far as to say that Santa is a lie. A legend, a myth, a tale, a story — perhaps — but not a lie. If we are to label Santa a lie; then, much of early childhood experience and development is built upon lies — and that just isn't so. We put fables, fairy tales, and folklore (all myths) to good use when teaching children morals and values. Are we then lying to our children when we read them a bedtime story about a tortoise and a hare, or three little pigs? Or are we propagating a lie when we take them to a Disney movie about finding a fish named Nemo? After all, everybody knows that fish don't talk. Of course, we aren't lying to our children by taking them to a movie or reading a story and pretending along with them. What we are doing is encouraging creativity and the use of imagination! Children spend a great deal of time pretending, especially between the ages of five and eight. They are also regularly exposed to media in which animals (or fish) can talk, people can fly, and objects magically appear and disappear. Why should a group of flying reindeer pulling a sleigh filled with Christmas gifts and driven by jolly, old Saint Nick in a red suit be any more fantastical than a talking fish trying to find his son named Nemo? When you kill Santa, you're also killing fantasy and entertainment opportunities that allow the use of creativity and imagination — both very healthy and essential parts of a child's development.
Children rely on what other people tell them — what is known as testimony. Young children have to rely on their parents’ testimony because they still have much to learn. They also rely on evidence to support whether something is fact or fiction. At a very young age, all testimony (what parents say) and evidence (toys appearing under the tree) points to the existence of Santa Claus. At some point, usually between the ages of seven and ten, children begin to hear other testimony and collect evidence through experience that contradicts their belief in Santa. It could manifest itself when talking to other children (perhaps with older siblings), or by coming to understand the real-life physics of what’s possible and what's not possible — like the fact that it's humanly impossible to climb down and climb up a chimney. They’ll question old evidence, seek out new evidence — perhaps find something you've hidden in a drawer — and eventually draw their conclusion that Santa isn't real. This reasoning and problem solving are also very healthy for children. So when you kill Santa, you're also killing opportunities for children to feel good about figuring something out on their own.
I find it interesting that after carefully analyzing the Santa pros and cons, Michelle Horton, a former self-proclaimed anti-Santa parent — who didn't take the Santa myth for granted with her child, 'just because' — has now hopped aboard the Santa train and firmly landed on the side of Team North Pole. She has come up with the sweetest list of 10 Reasons Why Kids Should Believe in Santa Clause and has paired them with adorable pictures of her son sporting a sock monkey hat and a striped tie!
Some of us don’t invite Santa Claus into our homes because we don’t celebrate Christmas, or because we choose other holiday traditions. Others embrace Santa without any religious connotation, and still, others give Santa his place right alongside the shepherds in the manger. Santa will need to be a personal decision that you make for your family. My husband is Catholic, and in spite of the fact that I am Jewish, we decided not to deprive our children of Santa and all his whimsy during the holiday season. Personally, I find the Santa Claus myth to be an exciting part of childhood, one that added great joy and lots of magic to our holiday season for many years. Now that I have young-adult children — sadly, Christmas without Santa just doesn't feel quite the same, even for us grown-ups.
If you choose not to include Santa in your festivities, so be it — just don't throw the hate on him. There's no reason to 'kill Santa' — after all Santa still has the power to bring joy to lots of children all around the world. You can't dismiss that! And remember, a little magic around the holidays never hurt anyone — child nor adult.
We sincerely hope you enjoy the magic of your holiday season, whether you choose to celebrate Christmas with or without the jolly old man, sporting a bushy white beard, and donning a red velvet suit.
Oh! And by the way, we'd be ever so grateful if you'd...