Santey Claus

You might think that, four years into this parenting gig, we would have figured out how we want to handle Santa at our house.  But if you thought that, you would be wrong.

We do celebrate Christamas but don’t really identify as Christian.  Roo and I both grew up in Christian families and for both of Tad’s sets of grandparents Christmas is a big deal.  Our own celebration of this time of year is more pagan.  We go to the Winter Solstice service at our UU church.  We do have a tree, but think of it more as coming from a long pagan tradition of bringing evergreens into a home as a reminder that spring and green growing things will come again.  We talk about Jesus with Tad, but with a focus on his wise ideas about caring for the “least of these” more than the story surrounding his conception.  And we haven’t touched that whole crucifiction thing yet.  Roo and I don’t see Jesus as the Son of God (at least not any more than all of us are children of God).

So it might seem that we could focus on Santa instead.  But I’ve been thinking lately about the fact that Santa comes with his own kind of theology.  The kind of Santa who divides everyone into “naughty” or “nice” lists and gives lots of material stuff to the “nice” ones just doesn’t fit with our view of the world or with the values that we want to convey to Tadpole.  We work really hard to convey to Tad that people sometimes make bad choices, but there are no bad people, and that he is still a good person even when he makes bad choices.  Which is exactly the opposite of this whole naughty list thing.   And we certainly don’t want to convey to Tad that people who have more material posessions have it because they are “nice” and those who do not must have been “naughty.”  Because of all of this, in previous years Roo and I have tried to downplay the idea of Santa.

So, of course, Tadpole is obsessed with Santa.  His favorite song is “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (which has some of the more objectionable and, in my opinion, creepy bits about Santa knowing when you’re sleeping and such).  Tad discovered a copy of The Polar Express that someone had given us a few years ago and asks to have it read to him multiple times a day.  His preschool has spent the last two weeks talking about Christmas pretty much non-stop.  All of their activities have been focused on the more secular aspects of things–Santa and reindeer and sleighs.  It’s not often that I wish people would talk more about Jesus.  But at Tad’s school (which is in a Presbyterian church), I wish they would talk more about Christmas being a time when some people celebrate the birth of a baby who grew up to be a man who taught about love and peace and less about a big guy with a beard who spies on you and gives you lots of plastic crap.

I start to feel very Scrooge-like about the whole Santa thing, and then I see the joy that Santa brings to Tad.  When “Santa” came around to his classroom as part of his holiday party at preschool, Tad was beside himself.  He came running up to Santa and flung himself at Santa’s knees for a hug.  I was on the other side of the classroom and Tad turned to me, his face beaming and his whole body quivering with excitement, and said, “Momma!  Yook!  It’s Santa!  Come see Santa!”  This Santa idea is clearly bringing him so much joy, so I go along with Tad’s endless conversations about what he’d like to leave out for Santa’s reindeer (carrots) and what he’d like to leave out for Santa (pancakes and syrup).

Roo and I are still trying to figure out what to do when Tad asks if Santa is real.  He started asking last year, at not-quite-three and has brought it up several times already this year.  Our party line is that “he is real in our hearts” and “he is real the way Ta-eh [one of his imaginary friends] is real”.  That worked last year, but this year Tad’s response to that is, “but Ta-eh isn’t real! Ta-eh is pretend!”  I don’t want to ruin the mystery and magic that is Santa, and I want Tad’s childhood to be full of all sorts of mysterious and magical things (including his imaginary friends).  But I also don’t feel right lying when asked a direct question.

In terms of Santa, we’re walking a fine line.  It is fun to see Tadpole get so excited about Santa, but I don’t know how far to go in terms of the fantasy play about him.  And I don’t know how to “do” Santa in a way that leaves out the bits that I disagree with.

How do you handle Santa at your house?  Do you leave out cookies for him?  What do you say when asked if he is real?



Filed under Parenthood, Tadpole, Uncategorized

11 responses to “Santey Claus

  1. We’ll surely leave cookies and continue to preserve the myth. But, like you, we don’t dig the naughty/nice bit. I intend to discourage it where I can. Christmas isn’t really about being good (for us) and I’d far rather use something immediate as leverage. But I’m not giving in on the myth of santa. I don’t know how that will work – I’ll let you know!

  2. I’m glad he’s getting some Christmas magic, that seems like the important thing to me. I am hoping to somehow avoid the Santa thing. Like maybe we’ll just ignore it and it won’t come up? *Laughs heartily* Because I agree with you about it being such a strange yucky tradition, as presented by popular American culture.

  3. Wow, thank you for writing this and I hope you all had a great time today with your families! I have been thinking about all of these things with the baby on the way. Somehow knowing I don’t want to baptise him just for the sake of appeasing relatives led me to thinking about Christmas and Santa. I feel so much less alone in my dislike for a lot of this holiday – don’t get me wrong, I’m no Scrooge – since reading your post. I don’t want my baby to think grow up feeling entitled to presents but I also don’t want him to think that there is a correlation between good and bad people. I was raised Lutheran and have been a practicing Buddhist for 12 years or so. I think I will try to put the emphasis on family, new and old traditions, and giving. I have no idea how I will handle the Santa and Jesus conundrum.

  4. tbean

    This was an interesting post for me to read as well. I am so _not_ into the santa thing. Partly because I’m an atheist and partly because I _hate_ lying and partly because I never believed in santa as a child. (Not even when I was 4. My parents say I never bought it.) So I have no idea how to spin this whole santa thing for my boys. I plan to be very, very low-key about it, downplaying the whole santa thing, and then follow their lead from there. But man, if, at 3.5 they asked me point blank is santa was real, I’d have a very hard time lying to them convincingly. I mean, I could do the whole “what do you think?” turn it back to them, but from there? No clue where I’d go.

    I have to say, my wife and I are absolutely amused by the number of parents who foist their newborns/babies/toddlers/children on Santa’s lap and the myriad FB pictures of screaming children on Santa. I see no need to EVER get mall santa photos. Ever. Unless the boys really want them. I know my MIL will hate that, but I’m not spending $$ to put my baby on some strange man’s lap. No thanks.

  5. I think we’re in a similar situation, except that Critter isn’t old enough to be asking if Santa is real. We’re not Christian (much to the ongoing distress of PB’s mother…), but we celebrate Christmas in a cultural sort of way. I tend to think of it as a Midwinter/Solstice type celebration, just a held a few days after the actual solstice. We celebrate lights in the midst of darkness, and that’s something I can get behind wholeheartedly. The tree (real, of course), with its scent of evergreen and its tiny glowing lights and ornaments is probably my single favorite part of the whole thing.

    Santa, though… I’m not comfortable with the naughty/nice thing myself. I don’t want Critter (or any other children) to grow up buying into the whole “if you have more material goods, it indicates that you’re a better person” mentality that I think this whole country inherited from the pilgrims. (But I digress.) And I want him to try to, say, be kind to the cats because it’s a good thing to do, and not because he’s looking to increase his haul from Santa. But I do want Critter to have the magic. I grew up with Santa, and I enjoyed it. PB was apparently pissed off that everyone had been lying to her when she figured it out, but I wasn’t. I don’t remember a specific moment that I realized what was going on, it was just kind of a gradual dawning awareness that eventually I couldn’t ignore. (Much like realizing I was gay, incidentally. But that’s besides the point.) But for now, we put out cookies and beer for Santa (what? Everyone gets tired of milk after a while, right?) and apples for the reindeer, and I like the tradition of it.

    If you’ve never read the book Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett, I recommend it. (Actually, I love all of his books. They’re very funny, and very philosophical in a way that sneaks up on you as you’re reading along.) There’s a bit in there about why we teach children to believe in Santa (well, the Hogfather in this book, but same difference). And one of the characters says that we teach kids the small lies (Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc) so that when they grow up they’ll believe the big lies (Justice, Mercy, Truth, etc). It’s an interesting idea, at any rate.

  6. I loved reading this post. It is such a thoughtful analysis of the Christmas holiday in the US. While KK and I haven’t talked much about how we will handle the naughty/nice element of Santa we talk often about how to handle the holiday traditions. I come from a family that has an extensive scripted celebration and I love it. Almost everyone on both sides of our family is a practicing Christian, which helps with the religious part of the celebration, and we both love the way my family “does” Christmas.

    Santa comes to everyone in my family. We have always loved “magic” and so when my siblings and I were old enough that Santa would stop visiting the house we suggested that rather than giving up Santa entirely we include my parents in the tradition, draw names and do a secret Santa for the adults. We fill the stockings (using a set dollar limit) and in the years when we are all together we will sneak downstairs in the middle of the night to hang them – resisting the urge to see what someone else purchased for you if your stocking is out is part of the fun! Then, in the morning when we open stockings we have the fun of trying to figure out who drew your name from the hat.

    I remember very clearly when my Mom told me that Santa was not real. Like many of you, she hated lying to me and decided to come clean when I was 4. But, when she tried to tell me that the Easter Bunny was not real I yelled that she was wrong. She, wisely, did an about face and let me believe in Santa. I was in 4th grade when it was time to unveil the Santa myth. We were Christmas shopping, just the two of us. What I remember her emphasizing was the importance of surprises, magic, abundance, and gift giving as one of many good ways to show love. Somehow knowing that my parents were “Santa” never ruined the joy of the stocking moment for me. I also remember loving that my siblings still believed and being very careful not to ruin it for them.

    This year, when my mother’s extended family gathered at my Grandparent’s house to meet Zachary we talked about their family tradition and I realized that what we do in my family comes almost entirely from the traditions my Grandmother set in motion. I love that sense of family connection. My guess is that when our little family does Christmas all on our own that we will follow in that pattern as well.

    Shoot…this reply is insanely long. I hope that it’s fun for you to read. It sure was fun for me to write and think through some of these things.

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