It doesn’t matter to me when you put up your Christmas tree, or which Christmas greeting you use. I’m not even going to rant about the real meaning of Christmas because, let’s face it, we all like the presents and the food even if we boast about Jesus being the reason for the season.
But I do want to say something about Santa because this society has taken him from a never seen or heard mysterious and magical part of Christmas to a sports car driving techno dude in a sleigh tracked by satellite who does guest spots on the radio, and kids are glued to the internet on Christmas Eve instead of sitting on someone’s knee listening to a classic storybook and it bugs me.
Yes, we did the “Santa” thing when our kids were young. Would I do it again? No. I do believe in “Santa”, just not this one.
Magic comes from mystery, something really unique and exciting we can’t ever quite put our hands on or wrap our minds around. Things that are everywhere, embellished and adapted to suit individual ideas and activities are not mysteries. They become overload and quickly take the magic away. Drink eggnog every day for a year and see if you care two hoots about it on Christmas Eve!
When I was little, Santa was the guy no one ever saw. He showed up magically to deliver presents on Christmas Eve after we were asleep. We didn’t have to write letters because he saw us when we were sleeping and knew when we were awake, so he just knew stuff – important stuff – like what we wanted for Christmas. In our house we left him beer and pepperoni, because we knew he would be tired of eating all those cookies along the way. It was a simple mystery. It was magic. It was exciting and fun.
Then he started showing up at the store. And after that, at several stores. Soon explanation that the real Santa couldn’t be everywhere at once so some of the guys in red suits were elves helping out and you just never knew which one was the real McCoy was necessary. OK, fine, I bought it for the short term. But why did Santa have to be in the stores at all? Wasn’t he busy up there at the North Pole getting ready for Christmas and that around the world in 24 hours trip? How did he have time to come down with his elves (who were supposedly making toys up there) to sit in stores? The magic was fading.
Next came the letter writing. Apparently Santa was aging too and perhaps needed reminders about things, so writing the letters and then sitting on his knee to ask again were probably helpful for him. Parents swiped the letters to “mail” them and quickly opened them up to make sure they got it right. Kids never saw them again and never knew the difference. Gifts appeared under the tree.
Santa started showing up at company Christmas parties and handing out presents early, to the kids that were there. Huh? Now THAT was a mystery. Why the hell would he do that for some and not others? I guess you had to book him early on because the party season was so busy. Tough luck if you missed it. The magic faded a little more.
And then I got to school and that was the end of it, because unless all parents are on the same brainwave, it’s over. The funny thing is that if you are the one who knows the truth you are supposed to keep it to yourself so that the other parents can keep on lying, and if you tell the truth you are in trouble for spoiling their kids’ fun. My fun got spoiled because some other kid found out before me. Goodbye magic.
Skip ahead to my own little ones, and while I wanted to share the fun with them, I began choking on the whole Santa can’t be everywhere so he sends his elves to help him out story. I put them on his knee for pictures even the year that they screamed and cried in fear. Even magic Santa couldn’t make them happy enough to sit for a picture at the age of one when mommy handed them off to a stranger in a bright red suit. No mystery there!
Santa started showing up everywhere we turned, in different costumes, sometimes fat, sometimes not, and now coming right into the schools to have kids sit on his knee. They had yearly Santa pictures taken and anyone with eyes could see that no two Santas looked exactly the same. Now they had a photographic record to prove it. Some people were arranging for “Santa” to make phone calls to their kids, visit their family gatherings, and inviting us to participate. Didn’t they think about what happened the next day when their kids told other kids who didn’t get to do these things with Santa? I drew the line there, finally starting to see where all this was going, never imagining just how far it would be taken later on.
The Santa letters I helped our kids to write were then mailed to an actual address through the post office, and they received replies from Santa. I guess somewhere along the way the elves must have reproduced like rabbits to allow Santa all this letter writing time right in December, which everyone knows is the busiest time of year for any business, and we at home are all scrambling just to get our own box of cards addressed and stamped. But I went with it, they were happy and it gave us something to save for the scrapbooks.
Enter the school: while I’m sure letter writing skills are important and worthy of being taught, there seemed a gap in logic when letters to Santa were being written in the classroom where kids could add anything they wanted — without their parents having a clue of the content — and the school mailed them, resulting in another reply from a Santa with apparently too much time on his hands. Not to mention that whatever was asked for in the school letter was often something parents didn’t know about, so let’s play guess that gift and hope for the best.
Skip ahead to today’s children whose parents are pressured into buying eery little elf dolls because so-and-so has one and the lie must go on! They’re supposedly “watching” kids all day and at night doing all kinds of things for which kids would get into trouble, while reporting back to Santa (who used to know on his own who’s been naughty or nice). OMG! What’s next?
When are they going to come out with “Santa’s Secretary” so he doesn’t even have to write the damn list himself anymore? Then maybe he can just send the reindeer around with the sleigh to stuff the presents down the chimneys — certainly they all know the route themselves by now and probably have begun tuning out the whole “On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer, on Vixen” thing with a few “as if we don’t know what the hell we’re doing” eye rolls anyway — and he can stay warm at home with Mrs. Clause for a change. After all, maybe she’d like some attention on Christmas Eve …
Let’s be honest: we lie to our kids. We tell them a fairy pays for their teeth but doesn’t know the difference between a quarter and a $20 bill to cover the fact that the kid down the street has richer parents. We tell them about a rabbit that delivers eggs and chocolate bunnies at Easter (no magic sleigh or even helpers here, the guy just hops around the world carrying loads of treats in his two little front paws and none of it melts?) There is a difference between withholding truth they don’t need at a particular time, and formulating lies that require more and more lies to keep each other going. We tell ourselves these lies are for fun and they create magic. No they don’t. They steal magic away as the lies get bigger and bigger because kids get smarter and smarter. Not only that, but there is an expectation that other parents will also lie and teach their kids to lie so as not to spoil the “magic” that our lie is working to create. Now we have kids lying to keep parents happy. There is something very wrong with this.
I don’t believe in this Santa Clause and I don’t want my future grandchildren to believe in him either. If I had it to do over again, I would do the “Santa” thing but here’s how it would go:
I would tell my kids that Saint Nick – a real person in our real world – was the first Santa Clause, that he loved children and went around giving them special gifts. Now that he’s gone, we carry on his tradition and keep the spirit of Santa alive by playing Santa for others. Parents play Santa when kids are small and when they grow older they can join in on the fun of surprising, giving and sharing. I’ve seen this become magic. Children learn what they live and whatever parents present as magic and exciting fun will be perceived as such and the traditions will last because they are built on truth rather than on unfolding lies with disappointment at the end. Santa is real – he is part of all of us.
Mr. Frances Church got it right in 1897 when he responded to an inquiring little girl that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause.” If only we could stop the madness and go back to a time when Santa was a mystery and we didn’t even know what he looked like, until he got thirsty and started drinking Coca Cola…
Truth, Lies and the Elf on the Shelf
Santa and Coca Cola