Last year my children were too little to understand much at Christmas time. They were excited to open some presents under the tree at grandma's house, but there was no discussion of who brought them or why they were there. Even at nine months and two-and-a-half-years-old they were smart enough to not look a gift horse in the mouth.
This year, my son is old enough to start asking questions and I am prepared to answer them. With the truth.
"Honey, Santa Claus isn't real," I expect to tell my 3-year-old very simply. I shared this plan with family members over the Thanksgiving holiday. There was nothing short of hatred returned my way.
"Why would you rob a little kid of that joy?" they demanded.
"Why would I lie to him?" I shot back.
Without me saying anything on the topic, he is already catching on to the inconsistencies. “Mommy, uh, why does Santa need to bring us toys when they are already in Target?” he asked this weekend.
After that he will ask how it is possible to deliver all those toys in one night, where reindeer learn to fly, and why the Santa posing for pictures in the mall is drunk. Just thinking about all the questions I won’t be able to answer makes me uneasy.
I am, however, aware that some of these untruths could benefit me. Having him write a letter to Santa telling him everything he wants means I don't have to guess what is most important to him. Santa also gives me a built in scapegoat when he doesn't get every single item on his list.
"Santa only picked a few of your favorite things," I'd say with a "hey-don't-blame-me" face. I would also get to eat an entire plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies without being expected to share. Such a rare moment in a mother's life could be worth all the Santa charades.
I realize as an adult my parents allowed us to go on with this charade, even thought they had no intention of buying us more than five things, because our activity must have bought them hours of quiet. Setting my kids up for the disappointment of not getting a fraction of what is on their list doesn't sound like it will work in my favor.
Even less appealing is Santa's naughty/nice list. Am I supposed to be teaching my kids the concept of keeping score and holding grudges at Christmas time? I understand some mothers use this as persuasion to encourage good behavior during the chaotic holiday time but you still end up being the bad guy reminding them that "Santa's watching." It's a little too Big Brother for me.
I am also uncomfortable with the extent of these lies. I might be willing to let him believe what he hears at school or write his wishlist to the bearded man, but I've seen some truly elaborate stunts by other moms. Making a family member dress in a huge polyester Santa suit, fabricating hoof prints to imprint on the front lawn, and joining Santa Seekers (it's a real organization) are way beyond my desired level of involvement. Even the US Postal Service is joining forces with these insistent parents. For the price of a few postage stamps you can write your child a letter, designate Santa in the return address, and mail it off to Alaska for a bonafide "North Pole" postmark.
Instead of going through great lengths to keep up the farce, isn't it better to tell him the truth now while he will accept it without resistance? Then when his classmates are figuring it out in a few years, he won’t experience the same feeling of disappointment.
Which brought up one very important point.
“The other mothers at school are going to hate you,” my mother informed me.
Deciding whether or not to carry on about Santa Claus is where I draw the line -- I think that is a choice every family has to make for themselves. Besides, those moms hate the kid who breaks the news to your child before he is ready to hear the truth, but that kid is typically trying to be a “know-it-all” show-off. If I tell my son at the age of three, I doubt he will have that mentality about spreading the news and rubbing it in. I also plan to remind him that December is a special time of year for everyone, but families celebrate their holidays in many different ways. He should be respectful of other children even if their beliefs are different from his own.
I intend to share the tale of Santa Claus, but as an exciting story that surrounds this time of year. Not as truth. We can still enjoy the tradition of giving and receiving gifts but with the understanding that those presents come from close family members, not some jolly old heavyset stranger in a red suit who lives in the North Pole with magical toy making elves and flying reindeer. I’m not sure I could even say all that with a straight face.
Christmas should be less about the man who brings the gifts and more about the magic of the season. Beyond the consumerism, the December holidays give off a feel-good spirit of giving and kindness. This is what I want my children to think of when they consider Christmas. That feeling does not revolve around an old man with a white beard and it's something I can share with my children without perpetuating a single falsehood.
Although they still aren't crazy about the idea, the family accepts that we are essentially on the same page. We all want the children to enjoy the joy, magic, and excitement of Christmas. With that foundation set, they were on board. At least until I told them my other holiday plan -- no more than two gifts per child per pair of grandparents (there are three sets).
Now they really hate me for taking all the fun out of Christmas.
(photo: Ljupco Smokovski / Shutterstock)