Why I Don’t Care About Santa Claus

English: Santa Claus as illustrated in , v. 52...

Cover of Puck Magazine, December 1902, by Frank Nankivell Image via Wikipedia

Here’s the thing:

I could really care less about Santa Claus.

Sure, I’m still a little annoyed that my parents intentionally deceived me for so many years, commissioning personalized letters from Santa, leaving partially eaten cookies and carrots where we kids had left a snack for Santa on Christmas Eve, and even, when I was 10 and had chicken pox over Christmas, leaving a typed message from Santa himself in the typewriter I’d begged for.

“I know Santa has to be real,” I remember telling my mom, “because who else could have typed that message?”

When I finally figured out the truth (when I was twelve), I felt devastated. Not only had my parents practiced this elaborate deception for my whole life, I was clearly an idiot. In retrospect, it was so obvious. I was angry at my parents, but more than that, I was angry at myself for being so incredibly gullible.

I didn’t really trust my parents after that, which may or may not have happened without the big Santa letdown. After all, I was twelve. Every day I found new ways that my parents wronged me and new evidence to support my growing hypothesis that they were tyrannical imbeciles. (Over the past 20+ years, I discovered that they are merely, like the rest of us, human, which would likely have been just as big an affront to my 12-year-old self as what I actually believed.)

So, yes, while believing in Santa was magical and delightful until my faithful dog pulled the curtain aside and revealed that there was no magic at all, I didn’t and still don’t believe that the wedge it drove between me and my parents and the holiday itself was worth the temporary delight.

But I also recognize that most people don’t have such a personal grudge against the jolly bearded man in red. They have nothing but joyful memories of magical holidays and the satisfaction of gradually being let in on a grown-up truth at the proper time (usually before the age of 8 because about every other child in the United States is less gullible than I was). As a result, these people share the one-sided version of the Santa myth with their children. (I say one-sided because in general when someone shares a fiction, both they and the person they’re telling understand that it’s a fiction. With the Santa myth, only the parents know it’s a fiction. So, one-sided.) I don’t think this is bad. I think it just reflects a different perspective than mine.

These parents who “do” Santa place different weights on their values than I do. For me, whimsy is secondary to honesty and transparency. My kids and I play make-believe. We just all know it’s make-believe. Now, I know that I need to watch this because I have a tendency to let my kids in on more of the truth than they ought to know at their respective ages, but at the very least, I don’t feel comfortable introducing an intentional falsehood that they’ll eventually need to discover for what it is.

“Mommy, why do some parents lie to their kids about Santa Claus being real?” my daughter asked me as we were putting gifts under the tree the other day.

I don’t recall using the word “lie,” but it’s not really a surprise to me that my daughter interpreted the situation like this, given the way I’ve presented it.

“Well, honey,” I said, ” it’s not like it’s completely untrue. Around Christmas time, people like to think about how happy we feel to give presents and do nice things for each other. Kids like the story and their parents like seeing their children happy and surprised on Christmas morning.”

“I like the stories about the reindeer,” my daughter offered.

“Oh?” This is my stock answer when I’m not sure exactly where the conversation is going.

“I like Vixen the best because that’s what a female fox is called,” she continued. “What’s the largest number of kits a female fox can have in one litter?”

I don’t think that other people are doing their children a disservice by “doing” Santa. Nor do I think that I’m denying my children magic by being up-front about the fact that the story isn’t factual. My kids like getting presents, but they don’t ask for things for Christmas, and they don’t try to find out what they’re getting (although my daughter is really excited about being in on the secret of what her dad and brother are getting). I had a box of unwrapped presents sitting in the living room for weeks and they never sneaked a look. For them, at least for now, the magic doesn’t seem to be in the receiving but in all of the other exciting trappings of the season, like baking cookies and putting up the tree and driving around looking at Christmas lights and having Daddy home from work for his company’s annual shutdown.

My children know that the magic of giving is created by us for others and for us by those who love us. My children see magic in the movement of the clouds to reveal the sun. They hear the magic in a bird’s call and their own attempts to imitate it. They know the magic of confronting a challenge and, through hard work, surpassing it. They have plenty of magic in their lives. It feels unnecessary and maybe even a little dangerous to try to manufacture magic. What if I manufacture magic and deliver it right to them and they lose the knack of spotting the magic that exists everywhere already?

So, that’s why we don’t do Santa (or the Solstice Fairy or the Easter Bunny or any other mythical gift-giving creatures). And when my daughter reaches her teens and is pissed at me for denying her all of these things, I’ll deal with it then.

What myths and traditions do you have in your family? How do you inspire delight and whimsy in your children?

10 comments

  1. Pingback: Classic Imperfect Happiness: Why I Don’t Care About Santa Claus | Imperfect Happiness
  2. Melissa · December 23, 2011

    I am in agreement with you on the whole idea of manufacturing magic, but I have never found the words to express it like you do here.

    “They have plenty of magic in their lives. It feels unnecessary and maybe even a little dangerous to try to manufacture magic. What if I manufacture magic and deliver it right to them and they lose the knack of spotting the magic that exists everywhere already?”

    Yes, yes, yes! There’s a quote by Maria Montessori that I love. She asks, “How is it possible for the child’s imagination to be developed by that which is in truth the fruit of the adult’s imagination?“ This is what I feel the whole creation of Santa and elves and fairies and magical bunnies does: it assumes that the child is incapable of being imaginative and substitutes the adult’s fanciful thinking for the child’s. Of course I don’t think that parents who try to cultivate magic for their children are consciously thinking or doing any of this, but that’s all I can come up with when I deconstruct it.

    Anyway, thanks for a beautifully written post.

    Like

    • CJ · January 27, 2013

      And thank you for the compliment and the very thoughtful comment! I really like the quote from Maria Montessori. Thank you for sharing it and your perspective.

      Like

  3. Heather · December 22, 2011

    When my son asked me if Santa was real last year, I asked him if he wanted to know the truth, or the fun story people tell around this time of year. Happily he selected the truth. I think if he wanted the fun story I would have done it up with a lot of winking and nudging to show how it was “fun,” which I’m not really sure it is, but we live in the world, and Santa is part of our cultural heritage, so…I figure the best I can make out of it is a) reinforcing Mommy as a source of reliable information, and b) making it fun since I’m stuck with it.

    Maybe it’s because we live in such a privileged area, but it is funny how many of my son’s third grade classmates still believe in Santa.

    We still play Santa and write Santa letters. I think my kid likes being in on the secret and playing along. His Santa letter was really spectacular, asking about the reindeer and buttering Santa up a little before asking for a few things.

    Like

    • CJ · December 22, 2011

      Yes, it would be quite difficult to exclude Santa altogether. My 2yo son doesn’t reliably recognize the big guy from pictures yet, but he knows who he his (he loves ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas). My daughter has said in the past that she wants to pretend about the Santa story, but she’s not been much into it. I worry sometimes that too much emphasis on Santa encourages consumerism (beyond what’s necessary, I mean…we’re all consumers).

      Have you seen the Tolkien book Letters From Father Christmas? I leafed through it in the library a couple of weeks ago and it’s really spectacular. I wonder if your son would enjoy it?

      Like

  4. Stacy · December 22, 2011

    Loved this. Well-written, insightful and funny. I had to deliberately try not to laugh as I was reading this and nursing the baby down at the same time.

    My Christmases as a kid were magic, plain and simple. My dad once got jingle bells and shook them outside our bedroom window, and Santa once showed up to our family party. I remember just gradually coming to the realization that it wasn’t all true, and while I think I was disappointed, I wasnt devastated.

    We haven’t deliberately pushed the Santa thing, but we haven’t denied it either. If one of my kids were to ask, we would tell them. My girls are 10 and 8 and I think that this is our last year Santa. I’m not sure that they still believe now, but I know they want to believe.

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  5. Zoie @ TouchstoneZ · December 22, 2011

    I’m not going to comment right now because I’m in the middle of writing my Santa/magic/holiday/forgiving/giving post and don’t want to alter whatever this massive post is going to morph into, except to say that I’ll be linking it up as reference because it’s so good.

    Like

    • CJ · December 22, 2011

      Well, thank you, Zoie! I’m looking forward to reading your post. Your holiday series has been really satisfying!

      Like

  6. Melanie Meadors · December 22, 2011

    I believed in Santa until I was about 11… I think I *knew* before that, but I would not admit it. But I was DEVASTATED. I didn’t blame my parents, and I wasn’t mad or anything, but I was very upset that such a wonderful thing did not exist… It wasn’t the presents or anything, it was anything fairy-like. I always wanted them to be real. That was like the last hang up on fairy folk. I was just very sad.

    What I really hate is the threat thing that I hear parents doing all the time. “You’d better be good or SAnta’s not going to come…” Yeah, let’s give our kids a complex about it. Like the holidays don’t cause enough anxiety.

    My son believes in Santa. Sort of. He says he does, but once I asked him, “Is Santa real?” and he just shrugged. I don’t think he cares if Santa is real or not, he just likes to play at it and he likes the story. He knows there are presents in the closet. I’m pretty sure he knows who wraps them. But I think he just really likes to imagine the story, so that’s cool with me.

    My foster son, on the other hand, was 13 when he lived with us and he really really BELIEVED in Santa. Which made me very nervous because when he finds out there is no Santa, he will be absolutely and utterly enraged (he had lots of anger issues, which I absolutely cannot blame him for). I’m kind of glad it didn’t happen in our house!

    Like

    • CJ · December 22, 2011

      I hope it’s not strange to say that I’m glad to hear you were also devastated (even if you didn’t have the same kind of anger about it. Most of my reactions morph into anger at one stage or another). I never really believed in fairies and such, but I was big into the paranormal and vampires and that kind of thing. My belief in those things outlasted the Santa thing, though, if I recall accurately. But I do remember having the sense that, when Santa was for sure not real, the magic kind of went out of everything else, too. Maybe what I’m looking for for my kids is a magic insurance policy, a diversified magical belief that can sustain them even as they grow up and become disillusioned and jaded. I don’t want them to have all of their magical eggs in one basket. Now that I think of it, that’s one of the things I loved about Harry Potter, and to a lesser extent Lev Grossman’s The Magicians…they gave me the sense that magic was just out of reach but still there, all around if I just knew how to access it.

      There was some link that popped up as a “possibly related” article that said something about an online survey in which 88% of adult respondents (in the US) said they believed in Santa Claus. Maybe your foster son will never need to find out.

      Like

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