Prior to having children, my husband and I discussed our thoughts on the idea of Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc. We talked in length about how we’d prefer our children not to believe in imaginary characters, but rather to be upfront with them about the truth. It’s not that I want to crush my children’s spirits. It’s that I don’t want my children to be told lies. It’s ok for us to tell our children Mickey Mouse and Dora the Explorer are pretend, so why can’t it be the same for Santa?
Our thought didn’t change once we arrived upon our first Christmas with child. My husband believed in Santa as a child, but my parents told us at a young age that Santa Claus was merely make believe. I never really remember a time when I got all excited about Santa’s arrival. I remember getting my gifts in a garbage bag brought up from the basement on Christmas Eve night. My parents were those last minute shoppers and hated wrapping presents. But it was our tradition…. and I absolutely loved it! I find when I discuss my childhood Christmas tradition, people act as though my parents ripped the Christmas spirit from my soul. I assure you… they did no such thing. If you know me, you know my utter obsession with Christmas. All things Christmas. Trees. Lights. Music. Baking. Yoga pants. You name it….. you might create a theory that my obsession stemmed from the lack of make believe… but as I grew older, the idea of Santa really began to creep me out.
Really think about the idea of Santa Claus for a minute. You have this fat old white man that breaks into your house in the middle of the night to leave you presents under the tree. You’re forced to sit on this strange man’s lap and tell him what you want, and if you’re naughty throughout the year, you don’t get anything but coal in your stocking. C’mon, people. That’s fucking creepy… and CRUEL. Why do we educate our children on the danger of strangers and how it’s unsafe for unknown people to be in our homes… but you go right ahead and sit on that fat man’s lap and tell him exactly what you want for a gift! Why are we forcing this unnecessary and quite potentially unwanted affection on our children? Keep your shit in check all year, too, or else you’ll be punished. I can’t even. We tell our children the importance of eating a well balanced meal and attempting to try new vegetables and fruits… but that Santa… oh Santa! He lives on cookies and junk food… and that’s ok? Contra-fucking-dictory much?? I just don’t understand.
As my oldest daughter, Eloise grows older, I can clearly see how broad her imagination has developed. She is incredibly advanced for her age, and her ability to understand complex ideas is extraordinary. In a random conversation one evening, Eloise began to tell me the things she’s learned about Santa. (Thank you, YouTube Kids for instilling unrealistic ideas into my child’s brain prior to giving me the opportunity to discuss them with her first… and by YouTube’s fault, I really mean my own fault because clearly I should monitor her video use more cautiously. My bad.)
Our conversation went as follows:
“Mom. Do you know that Santa is going to come to my house on Christmas?”
Oh, is he now? Tell me more about Santa, Eloise.
“Mom. Santa comes to our house on Christmas, and he brings me presents under my Christmas tree!”
How does Santa get into our house?
“He knocks on our door. When he knocks on the door, or he can ring the doorbell, but you answer the door and then he brings me PREEEESEEEENTS!!! I can leave him cookies and orange juice and he will eat them all up. But I get presents that he puts under my Christmas tree!!”
In that moment, my mind went blank. I was in utter shock. How do you compete with that? How do you tell a child that the magical experience of what Christmas stands for isn’t real? Who in the fuck wouldn’t want a man to show up on your doorstep, ring the bell, and give you a plethora of gifts?? Why would a young child not want to think that something that great, something that grand, doesn’t exist?? You got me, Eloise. You fucking got me. Santa. Is. Real.
As an adult, wouldn’t you love a reality of having an “easy” button where a character similar to Mary Poppins shows up anytime you were at your breaking point to just swipe all your stress away?? Wouldn’t you love the reality of Christmas morning having a man drop the lottery winnings off to your doorstep? While I still think the idea of this creepy old fat man sliding down my chimney after he stalks me all year and gives me gifts is a ridiculous concept, these ideas to children are realities. They are too young to understand the concept of reality and make believe. Reality is make believe and make believe is reality. Children’s minds aren’t developed enough to understand complex ideas or even able to decipher between what is real and what is make believe.
Christmas season has been upon us for a few weeks now, and my sweet Eloise Grace is no different than her mother. She’s got the Christmas spirit more than any child I’ve ever known. We drive down the street every day and her face lights up when she sees the Christmas decorations. She emits an abundance of freshness and joy each and every time her eyes come in contact with anything and everything Christmas. Eloise has learned a variety of Christmas jingles and loves wearing her Christmas apparel and pajamas. She’s even purchased and decorated her own mini Christmas tree.
As we watch her light up during conversations of Christmas, my husband and I decided that maybe this year it’s best to allow Eloise to believe however she chooses to believe. Who am I to tell her that this fairy tale of a man doesn’t give her the Christmas love and spirits that she so desires? It doesn’t matter what I tell her anyway. She’s going to believe how she chooses. She’s taken the time each time she talks about Christmas to remind me that Santa Claus is in fact real…. so, I better answer the door when he drops off the gifts! After all, my purpose as a parent is not to rip the genuine joy from my children, but rather to observe how imagination can illuminate from their souls. I don’t want to dowse the flame of their happiness. I want to allow the happiness of their creativity to warm my soul.
Eloise overheard a friend discussing Santa’s presence at the local mall, and she asked me if she could see him. I didn’t force it. I didn’t encourage it. But I assisted her in making the choice a reality. Eloise, her sister, and I arranged a visit to the local mall, rode the Christmas train, and ate some Christmas cookies. (Ok, they weren’t cookies. They were pretzels, but doesn’t cookies make the story sound so much more joyous?) Eloise finally had the opportunity to meet Santa Claus. Her sister refused, and that was ok for us. My role as a parent is to support their decisions, not forced unwanted tasks upon them. Eloise sat on Santa’s lap and smiled broadly. When it was time for the next child, she whispered in my ear, “Mom. I told Santa that Elsie and Charlie (cousins) wanted a dollhouse for Christmas. I forgot to tell him what I wanted, but that’s ok.” My heart filled with joy. Not only is my child full of Christmas spirit, but she truly understands the meaning of Christmas is to give to others. To give and not receive. Eloise Grace, you have a heart of gold… and for that, I am so proud.