Put a Bib on It

Santa Claus is (Maybe) Coming to Town


SantaI believed in Santa Claus until I was nine years old. And when I say I believed, I mean I believed.

Each year my brother and I would conceive of elaborate methods of proving his existence, which mostly involved demanding his signature on a Christmas card or singing carols in our beds way past bedtime on Christmas Eve in a vain effort to stay awake long enough to get a glimpse of the big guy. My parents played along, and brilliantly, such that they actually had to sit us down and tell us one Christmas that he wasn’t real, because we weren’t catching on.

Or maybe I just didn’t want to.

I remember with aching fondness believing in a world with magic in it. And while it is absolutely a lovely thing to believe in the magic of how good one human being can be to another, it just isn’t the same. When I was a kid, I needed reindeer to fly at breakneck speeds around the globe, depositing Santa Claus on rooftops so he could leave Polly Pockets and Ninja Turtles and take calculated bites out of the chocolate chip cookies we’d baked for him. That there was more to the world than the mundane was vital to me, and if I’m being completely honest, it still is.

I wasn’t angry with my parents when they told me that they’d essentially been lying to me for years. I was only sad – okay, really sad – but I went on to participate in the charade for my younger cousins, dashing through the yard in an elf costume just enough out of sight that they couldn’t tell it was me. That was fun, too, making magic for them. Being in on the secret.

So why is it that when this was such a fun thing for me, something I definitely wouldn’t change about my childhood, I’m having such a hard time introducing Santa Claus to my daughter? We talk about him, and we’ve been to see him and his elves, but who he is and what he stands for, and most importantly, the magical things he can do, haven’t come up. And I haven’t brought it up. I just don’t know that I can lie to her in such a big way, and the tradition hinges upon my being able to do so. For years.

I want to have Santa Claus as a part of our Christmas, and not just as a nice fella we see at the mall this time of year. I really do. I want what I think most parents want, which is to see their children reveling in the same things that delighted them as kids.

But I just don’t know how.

Last year, I thought I would just not say that he wasn’t real, and that would be enough. But now I know that it’s really my role as a parent to determine to what extent Santa Claus is a part of our Christmas. As much as relatives and teachers and friends talk about him, ask her if she’s been good or what she’d like him to bring her, she doesn’t have the context. I have to give it to her.

And I just… can’t.

All I’ve really been able to decide is what I don’t want to do, which is tell her that she only gets presents if she’s good. We’re working a lot on what it means to be kind, and I want that to come from inside her. A friend of mine recently wrote a lovely piece about the Elf on the Shelf where she said that, “I do not want my children to do what’s right because otherwise someone might see them and then they’ll get in trouble. And worse, because then they won’t get presents. I want my children to do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do.”

While she continues on to say that doing good for the sake of good is a complex thing for a young child to understand, and that indulging in the Elf, or Santa Claus, doesn’t make somebody a bad parent, I’m with her on this one. Besides, it’s not like if Miss E throws her fourteenth tantrum of the day over a diaper change or the wrong color cup or not being allowed to sit with her face millimeters away from Little Sister’s, I’m going to take all of her presents back.

I just don’t know yet, come Christmas day, whose name is going to be listed next to the “from.”

Author: Jillian Kuhlmann

Mama. Nerd. Writer.

4 thoughts on “Santa Claus is (Maybe) Coming to Town

  1. A coworker who has a baby younger than my 9 month old recently asked me if I was having trouble buying gifts for my son for Christmas. I said no, because I wasn’t buying him anything. He’s 9 months old. He won’t know the difference. Another coworker who was nearby asked what I would tell my son several years from now when he asks why Santa didn’t bring him any gifts for his first Christmas. I told her it’s not like I’m going to take pictures of him NOT receiving any gifts…

    It really struck me how the concept of Santa and his presents/presence was something that I was getting pressured to engrain so early in my child’s life. I don’t want to lie to my child(ren), either.

    For this year at least, it won’t matter, and looking forward, my husband and I have discussed how we’ll disclose the truth of Santa when it comes time. But I agree with you about the difficult situation we parents find ourselves in when faced with the familial and societal norms that surround Santa. It’s a fine line to walk between flat out deceit and well-intentioned illusion. I’ll be curious to see where you land with it because I’ll be in your shoes in a few short years. 🙂

    • It’s a tough decision that is absolutely impacted by belonging to a community that largely accepts Santa Claus… even if we choose not to invite him into our home, he’ll still be a part of both girls’ school/friend/family experience, so it sort of seems inevitable. Hopefully I feel good about whatever decision we make once it’s too late to go back!

  2. I love your sentiments about teaching your daughter to do the right thing–not for presents but because it is the right thing to do. The Santa question is a hard one. You are such an imaginative person so it’s no wonder you had fun with the Santa story as a child. I have fond memories of the Santa story as well, complete with our neighbors going up on the rooftop to put “footprints” of the reindeer. I think it is pretty harmless as long as you don’t let it go on too long. Once kids start elementary school there is always one person in K or 1st grade that lets it be know the big guy isn’t real. I remember not wanting to believe that though 🙂

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