When our kids were still visiting Santa I tried to manage their requests.
Santa: “What can I bring for you this year, buddy?”
My cute kid: “Abba babba doodie,” or something. It’s hard to hear crouched behind behind Santa’s broad back – the best position from which to provide necessary coaching.
Me (sotto voce): “Matchbox cars and Star Wars Legos, Santa. MATCHBOX CARS, STAR WARS … and, and books, lots of BOOKS.”
Santa: “Ho, ho. Is that right? A big screen TV for your bedroom? Well, have you been a good boy?”
“HEY! you BASTARD” I whisper-yell in the most threatening mommy voice I can manage from a semi squat, “are you LISTENING? I SAID STAR. WARS. LEGOS.”
The Santa myth is, in my opinion, the worst part of the holidays. We’re supposed to be teaching our children that the season is about peace, generosity, family. What they see in every media image, street sign, and store window, ushered in by the big guy in red, is greed, consumerism, waste, excess.
And it’s Santa who makes miracles happen if you believe enough. If you’re good enough.
Forget being good as its own reward. Being good keeps your parents from staging tattle-tale calls to a trumped-up Saint who could leave coal in your stocking. Being good gets you booty from the big guy. But, sometimes being good isn’t enough.
When Jack was in first grade, his friend, Nathan, told us his mom didn’t believe in Santa. One year, though, the neighbors brought a tree and boxes of food for Christmas dinner and some wrapped presents for him, his brothers and sisters.
“Then mom HAD to admit there was a Santa, to tell our neighbors where to bring the stuff,” Nathan said.
I had no idea what to say. Except: “My goodness you have awesome neighbors, Nathan!”
I couldn’t imagine what Nathan’s mom must feel like every year, not being able to wrangle all the trappings of Christmas for her children, wondering if by some miracle of neighborhood benevolence they would experience the magic that was supposed to be associated with the season.
I also wondered if this was year for the BIG REVEAL. Would Nathan’s comment inspire questions that would force me to admit Santa didn’t exist? That not only was he neither cruel nor random, ready bestow gifts – or not – depending on circumstances beyond your control, he was a total fabrication?
Nope. Jack let the whole episode wash over him, suspending disbelief for another year – and then a few more – in a big, white dude who traversed the world in a single night, led by flying reindeer, depositing exactly what each kid wanted in the right color and with appropriate batteries.
Yes, we played along with the story, because ultimately it’s easier to do than to be THOSE parents: the myth busters, the joy killers.
In the meantime, we have talked and continue to talk to the boys about people who need help, who are lonely, without family, who are sick, or destitute, for whom despair doesn’t take a holiday. We talk about and act on the belief that it is our responsibility to reach out, like Nathan’s neighbors, when Santa doesn’t take care of things. Ultimately, our help is a paltry attempt on behalf of those who need it, but we hope it makes an impact, as well as an impression on our impressionables.
Back when the kids believed in Santa, we also had some fun subtly undermining the big guy, planting doubts to soften the inevitable blow of the BIG REVEAL (which, when it did come, was less well orchestrated than we might have intended).
Santa likes to see kids smile, we told them. He’ll let you believe you’re getting a big screen TV for your bedroom, even if you’re not. He knows mommy thinks TVs don’t belong in bedrooms. It’s painful for Santa to talk about his weight problem, but all that sitting up late watching Johnny Carson, eating cookies in bed is the reason for his ginormous waistline and the multiple chins he hides behind his bushy beard.
It’s a sore subject. Just smile.
(And, PS, I never really called Santa a bastard).