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.”