Saturday, December 17, 2011

Santa Claus isn't a dirty lie.

I enjoy reading the blogs of other parents, whether I know them or not, and I frequent parenting forums. As a woman who has an opinion on almost everything, it's refreshing for me to go to a forum and be able to give advice or feedback on people's questions and ideas.

With Christmas almost upon us, more and more parents are posting their opinions on Santa Claus. What shocks me is how many of these parents refuse to tell their children about Santa based on the idea that Santa is a lie and it's never OK to lie to your kids.

My opinion is that those parents are missing the point. Santa Claus is not a hurtful lie. Rather, he's a wonderful story that, if done properly, teaches children the lessons of selfless giving and generosity.

I want to share with you a story involving my mom's family. My grandparents had nine kids, and my mom was the second youngest. Their family, as you might expect from a family of eleven, didn't have much money. My grandma would get upset when the phone bill came in because it was so difficult to pay. As you might also expect, this meant my mom really didn't get many things, especially new things. As one of the youngest, most of her stuff were hand-me-downs. She told me that she and her siblings would fight over who got to get the first dip in a new jar of peanut butter because it was the only new thing they ever got.

This was true all year round except at Christmas time. My grandma always loved the holidays. As the older woman I knew who lived alone, she still always decorated her condo and put up a tree. When she had her kids at home, she managed to make things work. My mom has told me about her favorite gift she ever received. Santa brought her a new umbrella with matching rain boots. Her sister got a set, too.

I've heard my mother and her siblings talk about how excited they'd get before Christmas morning. Apparently, they would each draw up a plan with a map on how they'd get from their bedrooms to the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. They got pretty detailed, from what I gather. I like to imagine how much fun it was for my grandma to see her kids get so pumped up for Christmas morning.

Now, I've heard some parents gripe that they don't want to perpetuate the "Santa myth" because they work hard to put presents under the tree, and they deserve the credit for their work--not some mythical man in red. I hope this story will change the mind of some of those parents. You see, it's true that my mom and her brothers and sisters were excited for Santa's visit. It's true that they thought the jolly elf was the man to thank and not my grandma. However, as they grew up, they began to view their childhood Christmases differently. They realized how difficult it must have been for their mother to make Christmas happen. My mom speaks of that with a lot of affection and amazement. Somehow, their mother gave them a magical Christmas, and they all got to enjoy the magic of it.

I have a similar story. When I was very little, my parents didn't have much money. My dad worked at the factory for Scott Petersen hot dogs while my mom delivered newspapers and went to school. They made ends meet, but it wasn't easy. Yet, somehow, amazingly, my parents were able to pull off an amazing Christmas for the three of us kids every year. We'd get so excited for Christmas. We'd write Christmas letters to Santa and visit him at the mall. I had trouble sleeping for days before the big night. On Christmas Eve nights, I probably didn't get to sleep until nearly midnight and was always up by 4am. I laugh at the thought of this now. We'd tear into our parents room at four in the morning, yelling and poking our parents to get up. They never made us wait until dawn. They'd drag themselves out of bed and get the coffee brewing. Once they had a hot cup of joe in their hands, they let us tear into our stockings and gifts.

Now that I'm a mother of young kids, and I'm even more in awe of my parents for what they were able to do for us. They had little money, but they made Christmas mornings some of my fondest memories. I might have thanked Santa for those gifts when I was a young child, but--you know what?--I'm not a young child any more. It somehow seems sweeter that my parents worked so hard to give us gifts and let us believe that it was the work of Santa.

Of course, the time came when we discovered "the truth." My brother found out first. One late night in 1986, my four-year-old brother woke up and found the Easter Bunny filling baskets. He was sad to learn of the news, but he got to take on a new role that next morning. He got to give his sisters the excitement of the Easter Bunny, and, thus, a new Bunny was born. For years after, my brother kept his knowledge a secret. He continued to go with us to visit Santa at the mall. He continued to write letters to Santa with us, and he let us believe. I love him for that. As for me, I can't even remember how I learned the "truth" about Santa. That's how devastating the knowledge wasn't. I think I was about seven, and I remember that I used to pretend to believe in Santa for a few more years because I was worried about hurting my parents' feelings. When I was in fifth grade, I decided I didn't want to pretend anymore, so I decided to break the news to my mom by sitting down with her and my grandma and "asking" them the truth.

Now, it's my turn to put on the bunny ears or the Santa hat or what-have-you. I want so badly to see my kids tear down the stairs as quickly as they can on Christmas morning. I can picture my son and daughter in footie jammies, yelling to each other about the toys they discover under the tree. I want to be the tired parent, sitting on the couch, sipping on a cup of coffee, feeling so happy because of my children's excitement.

I'm not concerned they will resent me for lying. When they reach a certain age, I expect them to start questioning the stories and ask me for the truth, and I will tell them. Oliver will likely find out first. I will explain to him how Santa the man might not be real, but the feeling and spirit of Santa Claus is. I will ask him to help me continue giving Joanna the Santa experience. Instead of apologizing and making it about lies, I will make it about sharing, joy, and generosity. He will experience the thrill of of watching her excitement and wonder, and I will tell them both that they get to be Santa for their own children one day.

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. [...] A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

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