My children don’t believe in Santa Claus. Given that they are thirteen and ten respectively, they probably shouldn’t believe in Santa at this stage of their lives. But they have never believed in Santa Claus.
I don’t know exactly when my spouse and I made the decision not to tell our kids about Santa. Our sons’ first exposure to Santa was at the boys’ drop in preschool (Strong Start). One of the classroom teachers in the school would show up on the last day before the winter break, dressed as Santa. Our first son, who was then three, is severely mentally disabled, non verbal and had almost no interest in Santa. Our younger, typical infant son screamed and refused to sit on some strange dude’s lap. I couldn’t blame him.
With the exception of this year, I spend the Christmas season singing holiday favourites in shopping centres and at corporate events. The last thing I was prepared to do was stand in line for hours at my workplace with other harried mothers with a disabled kid and a toddler in tow just to get some overpriced picture with some stranger that my kids didn’t even know or want to know. I viewed that ordeal as time that I could be spending on earning money on a gig or being en route to a gig. I am well aware of the hypocrisy in that my ability to earn a living in December was enabled by strung out, exhausted parents standing in line for a picture with Santa.
A couple of Decembers passed and we never stood in line for Santa. We just couldn’t summon the energy and so with little or no discussion, the whole concept of Santa became a non starter. In the same way that sitting on Santa’s lap never happened, we never told our typical son anything about Santa. No gifts came from Santa; they came from family and friends and we didn’t pretend otherwise.
It gradually occurred to us that telling our typical son that Santa is real is wrong for our family. My spouse, while raised Orthodox Jewish, has long been non practicing. I am a self described infidel who believes in the interconnectedness of the universe. Telling our child that there is a big bearded man up in the sky who sees you when you’re sleeping, knows when you’re awake and knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake seemed too similar to the negative, judgemental parts of religious rhetoric for our non religious household. The idea of threatening my son with a man up in the sky who was watching his every move and extracting compliance with gifts seemed false and cruel to us. We preferred denying screen time or time outs for negative behaviour.
Another aspect to the Santa myth that I found extremely unsettling is the materialistic nature of gifts. Most kids are exposed to different demographics and they find out very quickly that Santa brings better gifts to the kids from wealthier families. So already exhausted and stressed parents must work longer hours when they aren’t standing in the Santa line up to afford to get their kids presents from them AND Santa? Parenting is difficult enough without that guilt thrown in. It seems that eliciting desirable behaviour from kids by bribing them with gifts from Santa encourages classism and materialism.
Since I profit from materialism every year by singing Christmas carols for money, I am well aware of my own hypocrisy. Apart from this year, I sang “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” with gusto many times in front of lineups of parents and children, waiting patiently in their soggy coats for their photo with Santa. When we can have indoor gatherings again on a larger scale, I will resume singing for my supper so that I can buy into the materialism that is Christmas and pay the rent. Yes, we buy gifts for our friends and family, my Jewish husband puts up the Christmas tree and wreath and we have a nice Christmas dinner.
In order for a society to function, we all are required, as fellow humans, to adhere to an unwritten social contract. For example, we wait in line to be seated at a restaurant, most of us make an effort to be polite to others and not say everything that we think. Perpetuating the Santa Claus myth to children in this part of the world is part of our cultural customs or the unwritten social contract. But social contracts are fluid things because they are undocumented; the terms vary depending on the customs of the land and not all the terms need to be followed, especially if the act of violating the terms such as choosing not to tell your small children about Santa doesn’t harm anyone.
I’m not saying that all other parents should not encourage their younger children to believe in Santa Claus. Childhood is short and as a mother, I understand the desire to make my children’s lives as pleasant and magical as I can. For many families, maintaining the tradition of taking their kids to see Santa and participating in the Santa story is important to them. I have no desire to stomp all over that. If believing in Santa is a wonderful part of your holiday traditions, keep on believing and telling your kids the story until they are old enough to know.
But for me, telling our precocious son that Santa was real seemed to be a falsehood that was incompatible with our values. A decision that was initially born out of convenience and a bit of laziness, turned into questioning why a non religious family would follow a tradition that is essentially early religious training with hints of materialism. Due to my failure of imagination and my lack of belief, I couldn’t abide by the pretense and accept the story.
What happened when our son started school? He told a few kids that Santa wasn’t real. No one seemed very upset about that, at least not that I heard. We live in a multicultural neighbourhood where many people don’t celebrate Christmas anyway beyond a Christmas tree and presents here and there. For a month or two, our boy insisted that Santa was real and I was wrong. Our son is quite intelligent and he quickly figured out that we were telling him the truth all along.
Perhaps we’ve done the wrong thing and our son will be in therapy for the rest of his life. That may happen anyway but I can confidently say that I don’t lie to him when he accuses me of lying.
I think that we should at least question why we follow the traditions that we do and if we can abide by them, great. If not, maybe it’s time to drop them and make our own traditions. I will continue to sing, bake cookies, make “Christmas waffles” (homemade Belgian waffles with strawberry compote, whipped cream and maple syrup) on Christmas morning and enjoy the holiday that I love.
And that’s why Mommy killed Santa Claus. Yes, I’m a monstrous, murderous hypocrite but at least I’m honest about it. Merry Christmas.