“Poor, misguided folks. They missed the whole point. Lot’s of unhappiness? Maybe so. But doesn’t Santa take a little bit of that unhappiness away? Doesn’t a smile on Christmas morning scratch out a tear cried on a sadder day? Not much maybe. But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learned to give as only he can give: of ourselves, our talents, our love and our hearts? Maybe we could all learn Santa’s beautiful lesson and maybe there would finally be peace on Earth and good will toward men.”
– Narrator (Fred Astaire) in Santa Claus is Coming to Town
I have had some personal dilemmas about what holiday traditions I wanted to pass along to my children. The most conflict I encountered internally was whether to push the mythical notion of Santa on them.
I felt like I was lying to them with each question, coming up with more ridiculous stories about this non-existent man and his colossal workshop filled with elves. This story was extended recently to include little “scout elves” that perch themselves in your house to report to Santa in case Santa misses some things. Further, that getting any presents was contingent upon their “niceness.” Are we teaching children the wrong thing about what should motivate good behavior?
I have friends who are adamant that they won’t continue the tradition of “lying” to their children. So, I’ve been a little torn about what we would carry on in our house. I even stumbled upon this article which made me think “oh my Lord, what are we doing to our children by perpetuating this Santa b.s.??”
For every article I’ve seen about how “lying” to your kids about Santa is detrimental, I’ve found articles from similarly qualified people saying that believing in Santa helps children “develop creativity, language and cognitive skills” or that this is a part of their lives that should remain magical like this article from PBS or this post.
Then I asked myself a few questions:
1. Are there many adults in therapy today talking about how their childhood belief in Santa disillusioned them for their entire lives?
2. Does a belief in Santa undermine a child’s sense of reality?
3. What is the reason we are keeping this “fairy tale” around?
I know this may be a touchy subject for some people, and opinions will be across the map. However, for me and my family right here, right now, you cannot convince me that I’m doing harm to my child by giving them this moment in time. For the rest of their lives, they will be shown harsh realities, bad news, depressing outlooks on things, etc. Is it a bad thing to have them live in a state of purity, with a true and innocent belief in magic? I love that they have fantastic imaginations, that they believe in flying like Superman, objects that come to life and make wonderful things happen, that fairies or magical creatures do exist.
I remember being so frustrated with my mother-in-law when she allowed my 6 year old to watch all of the “secrets of magic” shows that revealed all the tricks of the trade. I liked it better when my son believed that magic was real. It made life seem so full of enchantment and possibilities.
This past weekend, I saw the magic of Christmas through my 4 year old’s eyes. We went to the Niantic, CT Winterfest and Light Parade which took place less than a mile from my parents’ home. It was spectacular!
It was frigid and after playing in some bubble/snow, he was cold and tired. He wanted to sit and watch the parade, but he fell into a speechless trance. I couldn’t tell if he was sad or just overwhelmed. For the entire parade, he didn’t want to move, he didn’t get up to join the kids who were jumping for candy, shook his head any time I asked him if he wanted anything and, if I didn’t know any better, I thought he was miserable.
Before the end of the parade, my 6 year old was done, begging my mother to take him home. Dylan still wouldn’t move. I told him that I knew he was cold, we saw lots of things and could go back to Grandma’s house and have some warm hot chocolate. He just shook his head “no”.
Finally, at the very end of the parade, Santa and Mrs. Claus came by in their little old convertible. The kids around us went bananas yelling and waving at Santa. Dylan perked up but barely moved.
Then, as Santa was almost past us, he turned and leaned over the back seat of the car to give final waves to our section. Dylan started waving like crazy. That’s when Santa pretty much looked directly at him and waved back.
“MOMMY!!! IT’S SANTA! MOMMY!! SANTA WAVED AT ME!!!”
It was the first time he’d spoken in over an hour.
He was ecstatic.
I packed up our stuff and he started to complain about his hands and feet being tired. I pushed the cart with our chairs and put him on my shoulders for the freezing mile walk back to my parents’ house.
He was cold but he didn’t complain. As we arrived (exhausted) at my parents, he ran into the house and started yelling “GRANDMA! GRANDMA! GUESS WHO WE SAW??!?!? WE SAW SANTA! SANTA WAVED AT ME!”
It was awesome.
Even my “almost 7” year old son is finding so much enchantment in preparing for Santa. We’ve sat together as a family and read some stories, watched some of the same movies that I watched as a child and talked about how hard the elves are working right now and how we should make sure we leave some nice snacks for Santa’s reindeer since they will be very hungry on Christmas Eve as well as Santa. The boys have inquired about the world, about children in other countries, about how Santa visits children in faraway places, even visiting their cousins in Norway on the same night. It’s opened up their minds to the world in some ways.
I know that I there will be people that disagree with me and I don’t have any negative comments towards any parent that thinks lying about Santa is a horrible thing.
I think, for me, I feel that my job as a parent is to help my child grow and develop in a healthy, caring loving environment. I know that there are things we may learn in the next 100 years about child development that maybe we’ve been wrong about for the last 100 years. But I do think that if perpetuating this myth is a harmful thing for my children, well, we are fostering an environment in every other part of their upbringing that encourages good choices, faith and belief in self-worth, compassion and so many other things that will lead to their development, that hopefully the Santa lie will not permanently crush their emotional development.
I will perpetuate the myth for as long as they believe (or until it may truly be detrimental) and I truly don’t feel guilty about it.