We don’t do Santa with our kids. Both Jen and I experienced Santa as children, so when we decided to eschew Big Red for our kids, both our parents went through their own stages of grief. Similarly, when we tell other people about it, we get a similar reaction from folks who are in no way vested in our children’s lives.
We didn’t want to do the Santa thing for several reasons. I won’t go into all of them, but the two biggies are: 1) we don’t want to lie to our kids*; 2) we don’t want Christmas to be about getting stuff. The former is straight-forward enough. Der Sinterklaas does not come down your chimney, drop off a bounty based upon your behavior, accept no reward except, possibly, baked goods, and repeat the process about a billion times that night. The latter is just trying to raise our kids to think about giving instead of getting. Yeah, that old chestnut. It’s not because we’re Christian or not. I’m a Catholic and my wife is a non-believer. It’s really just basic morality — don’t lie and don’t be greedy. You don’t have to believe in much of anything to get on board with that.
Anyway, when we’ve told other people, especially our parents, it’s like we ran over their dog. The five stages of grief are on full display every time we tell anybody.
“You’re kidding, right?” That’s the most common response from people I’ve spoken with about this, mostly other parents. From my own parents, the denial was both more condescending and more dismissive — “I’m sure you’ll change your mind when Christmas comes around.”
Sorry; Santa Claus and Christmas are not intrinsically bound. The feast of Saint Nicholas is 19 days before Christmas itself, and that’s as close as he comes, outside of Norman Rockwell and Clement Moore. We don’t want our kids thinking that Christmas is about Santa. That shouldn’t be difficult to grasp, and we’re not even specifically raising our kids to be Christians.
This is usually where the arguments happen. With my mom, there was a lot of talk about all the things we were “denying” our kids, and that we were “taking all the fun out of it.” For those who believe in Christ — you may remember him from two-thirds of the word “Christmas” — love for one another and giving to others ought to be chief priorities for the day. If we’re denying our kids anything, it’s an acculturation to materialism and an expectation of rewards without actions. I’m ok denying them that. I’m also ok denying them the realization in a few years that we’ve been lying to them for no apparent reason other than that it’s what everybody else does.
We’ve gotten some pretty creative “solutions” to our “problem” in the last few years. My favorite was that we could leave extra presents from Jesus under the tree. Because, you know, him dying on a cross wasn’t enough, he had to deliver a Barbie Dream House Foot Bath to my living room. There were others, too. Jesus would tell Santa about all the good/bad decisions our kids made during the year. Or, and this sounds like oodles of fun, Santa would bring Bibles and other Christian stuff with the rest of the presents. Also, more than a few people have mentioned having a birthday cake for Jesus. Whether He’ll apparate in to blow out the candles could be a surprise for everyone! The new three Ps of Christmas — Peace, Presents, and the Parousia.
“And what happens when their friends get presents from Santa and they don’t?” Ah yes, we should let our kids’ envy guilt us into compromising our principles. That just screams integrity, don’t it? Perhaps the better lesson for our kids would be to not be envious of other people.
“You got presents from Santa. Why shouldn’t they?” By this line of reasoning, there would never be any change in anything, ever. My parents wore roller skates that strapped onto their shoes; why shouldn’t I?** My parents rode in the car without seatbelts; why can’t I? My great-great…grandmother was besties with Martha Washington (true story, actually; one of the benefits of descending from an FFV); why can’t I grow some kale with Michelle Obama (or whatever she does for fun)? Times change, but only because people don’t accept what they experienced as the only experience available.
Anyway, this is where people start to open to the idea that they are not parents to our children, even though they clearly think they could do a better job on this particular issue. Probably all issues.
I only actually saw this one in Jen’s mom, who was equally despairing about the absence of fairies from our kids’ lives. Meh. Most people don’t really get depressed about this; I guess you can only care so much about how you think other people are screwing up their kids. I imagine they either skip to acceptance, or stop after the failed bargaining and go talk to their friends about the wackos they met at the children’s museum.
We really don’t care if anybody gets to this stage. After all, they’re our g
uinea pigs kids. My mom has come around to the idea. She doesn’t like it at all, and she has made some of her typical passive-aggressive responses, the latest of which involved selling off her collection of Santas because she didn’t want to “confuse” our kids. Right. But, despite that, she hasn’t fought us about it in years, and that’s all we ask. Jen’s parents were cooler about it after their initial dismay. In fact, Jen’s mom even found a lovely letter from someone on the Internet*** about how to discuss Santa with children who won’t be taking part in Santa as they begin to notice other kids Santa-ing it up.
The Santa myth isn’t worth omitting in its entirety. The notions of generosity and love toward our fellow humans, while not unique to Santa, are certainly meritorious. But granting St. Nick the seasonal monopoly on morality when he wasn’t the one spending his first night on Earth slumming it in a feeding trough seems like an overreach.
We don’t tell other people, particularly parents, what we’ve decided in order to make ourselves seem holier-than, or to make other people feel that their practices or beliefs are invalid. In fact, we don’t usually bring it up unless we’re asked. And when we do tell people about it, we’re always careful to describe it in the only meaningful terms — that they’re our choices and our kids; and neither belong to anybody else.
*If you’re just finding out about this now, I’m so sorry. Also, come Easter season, I’ll probably be disappointing you again.
**Because I don’t strap anything to my sneakers.
***I’ve been working on a theory that there are not nearly as many people on the Internet as it appears. I think there are, at best, a couple dozen folks with about a million alternate IDs and aliases that spawn 90% of the Internet’s sewage. I’m probably off on the numbers, but I think the concept is righter than wronger.