Our family loves Christmas.
A typical night in December will find us all huddled around the kitchen table with me addressing holiday cards and our three year old son coloring on the envelopes while my husband snips elaborate snowflakes and the kitten bats around the scraps. This wholesome scene is no exaggeration. We bake cookies, we open windows on the advent calendar, we watch the Muppet Christmas movie, we put way too many ornaments on our tree, and we hang up stockings. There’s just one thing we choose to leave out of the Christmas season: Santa Claus.
For our family, the Santa myth has no part in our celebration because we believe that it is totally possible to have a magical Christmas without lying to our children. I hear about parents going to great lengths to make Santa seem more real for their children: leaving mysterious footprints outside and eating the cookies off the plate. It just doesn’t sit right with me.
Why do all of this? Why try so hard to convince a child that something is real when it’s not? How do they feel when they find out that this whole time it’s all been a fabrication? Where does the magic go then?
If you were to stop by our house early on Christmas morning you would see our tree, weighted down with decorations, and my son’s stocking hanging up on the railing of the stairs. The only difference between our house and so many others is that instead of signing the packages, “From Santa Claus” we simply write, “Love, Mommy and Papa” on each one. Trust me; my three year old is no less excited about the entire thing. When Wolfy was littler, I considered whether or not we would do the Santa game with our little boy. My husband and I talked about it a great deal and he was even more adamant than I was about not doing it. When I really thought about telling Wolfy the Santa Claus story, it just seems like a ridiculous effort to get him to learn this whole story about a bearded man sneaking into his house in the middle of the night accompanied by flying reindeer. Why would I try to convince him that this myth was indeed true? And if I did tell him that story and he found out that I had lied to him, what would he think when I tried to tell him about other, more important spiritual and religious things?
My son’s world is full and amazing – he has no shortage of experiences: watching giant trucks, hearing an owl hooting while flying over the house, flying in airplanes, going to the symphony with his grandmother, and learning to care for his very own kitten. The world is an amazing place and I love watching my son discover it.
I don’t have to pretend that Santa is part of it because the truth is so much more interesting.
When we’re out and about and see someone dressed as Mr. Claus, Wolfy says, “There’s a Santa!” We treat Santa Claus about the exact same way we talk about Thomas the Tank Engine. One time Wolfy heard a train whistle and said he thought that maybe the train was Thomas. This prompted a discussion about Thomas being a character and the train whistle he heard belonging to a real train. I told him that it’s totally okay to like characters but that those things aren’t real.
When I was a little kid, I remember asking my mother the big question, “Is Santa real?” My mother answered my question with one of her own, “Do you really want me to answer that question? Because I’m not going to lie to you.”
The funny part is that I actually decided that I didn’t need to know the answer after all. Then, later that year or maybe the next year, my mom was shopping at a big department store. She asked my grandmother distract me for a few minutes but as we were all walking to the car, I saw through the plastic bags that my mother was clutching. Inside there was a My Little Ponies set, the exact one I had been begging Santa to bring me. Suddenly it all clicked. I remember being so disappointed – I liked believing. So I asked my mother, “Can we still pretend?” And for a long time we did. We both knew the truth, but the Santa ritual continued like a goofy game.
So if I liked pretending, why am I denying my son this tradition? Because even as a child I knew that I could trust my mother. It was like the, “is Santa real?” question was a litmus test. And even though she didn’t give me an answer I wanted to hear, she passed. She told me, “I will never lie to you. I don’t believe in lying, even to little kids.” I figured that if she refused to lie to me about Santa, she must really be telling me the truth about everything else. She wasn’t holding back on me and she wasn’t going to treat me like an immature kid that couldn’t handle the truth. Knowing or not knowing, that was totally under my control and I liked that feeling. This is probably why I don’t believe in lying to my children either.
If Wolfy ever wants to pretend that Santa, the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, or even Thomas, are real, we can do that. But both he and I will know we’re just pretending. It can be our goofy secret.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
This post originally appeared on BurlingtonVT Moms Blog.