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?