There seems to be a connection, tenuous or not, between Attachment Parenting and not doing Santa.
Sure, there are those who reject the entire Christmas Experience, focusing on the Solstice instead, or the season, or the darkness, or other cultural traditions. I get that. I understand and respect that. And there are other reasons too, such as not wanting some imaginary guy to get the credit for cool gifts that the parents chose and worked hard to pay for.
But what I hear most often is this: I won’t lie to my children.
This is the argument against Santa Claus that I want to talk about.
We didn’t do Santa for Esmé’s first two Christmases. She was nearly one for the first one, and nearly two for the second one. I had no interest in fabricating a Santa experience for a kid who was too little to comprehend the whole thing, plus, we’re not big into gifts, and like to keep Christmas as simple as possible, so we shelved the Santa thing.
At the same time, we weren’t sure we were even going to do Santa when the developmentally appropriate age came. But then that age came, and so did Esme’s appreciation for Santa. We decided to take Esmé’s lead and go with it. Culturally, he’s everywhere, and even though we stay clear of malls in general and don’t have cable, she still knew about him from neighbourhood talk, stories, family, and friends. Not to say that we couldn’t have worked around it, even with him being everywhere. We do that with the subject of school all the time, and branded characters, and food dyes, and other things we like to steer away from.
Jack and I talked about it though, and decided to play along. We both had fond memories of our own childhood Santa experiences, and decided that we wanted to create that for our children. On our terms, mind you. There would be less emphasis on the gifts he brings, and more about the magic and lore. We did take her to see Santa at Granville Island, but told her that he wasn’t actually Santa, but one of his many helpers. Esmé asked him for a backpack, which she’d wanted for a long time.
Christmas morning came, and there was the backpack, from Santa. Esme was in awe.
This year, at nearly four, she asked if Santa was real.
“Do you believe in him?” I asked.
“Yes.” Esmé looked at me. “Do you?”
“I think that so long as people believe in the magic of Christmas, he’s real.”
“Is he real?”
“Well, I believe in the magic of Christmas, so yes. I think he’s real.”
And that’s about as far as we’ll take it. I think she’ll figure it out by next year, when her questions are more pointed and we don’t insist on perpetuating the story at all costs. But this year, she was satisfied with that, and went on to write him a letter asking for the Madagascar movie. Jack took her to the post office to post it to the North Pole. And thanks to volunteer Santas at Canada Post, she’ll get a response too.
Which brings me to the whole ‘lying’ thing.
I’m not lying to my child. I’m encouraging magical thinking. There is great value in magical thinking. We need to be able to believe in things we can’t see and concepts that challenge our imaginations. There are all kinds of things that we can’t see or prove exist, but are, nonetheless. Love, hope, faith, to name a few. We need to be able to take a turn at being enchanted, in order to understand how to enchant others. We need to be able to take a flight of fancy, because we are a species of storytellers and story listeners. Stories are an integral tool when it comes to absorbing and understanding human nature. Childhood is filled with stories of all kinds. Or, at least, I hope it is. And I think it should be.
So, what about the disappointment and betrayal when she finds out that there is no Santa?
But there is a Santa. In every home that welcomes the myth and magic of the Christmas season. We are Santa. We all contribute to a magical story for the youngest members of our families. And when our children are old enough to understand the logistical ins and outs of the tradition, they can join in and continue the make-believe for the children younger than them. At first, as small children, we are in awe of the magic, and then we help make the magic. A very natural rhythm, if you ask me.
We value make-believe in our house. Heck, I’m paid for making things up and creating worlds and people who don’t exist except between the pages of a novel. The children and I spend hours each day pretending to be someone we’re not, dressing up or donning characters and imagining ourselves to be fairies, elves, dinosaurs, snails, knights, ghosts, mice.
Santa has become an important myth in our culture. One that I’m delighted to share with my children, in a simple way that fits nicely with our family tradition of keeping our Christmas focused on family, food, and magic.
(If you’re going to visit Santa in one of his many guises, can I suggest the lovely one at Kids Market on Granville Island? No photo packages to purchase … just bring your own camera. He does a great little circle time with songs and musical instruments for the children to use, and he hands out colouring books and stickers at the end. Outside his little workshop is a tree with names and ages of children who need some Christmas joy, and a donation box with proceeds going to charity. It’s a great low-key, no pressure way to have a visit with a down-to-earth and genuinely friendly Santa. Or one of “Santa’s helper” in our case.)