Santa visits us every year. What can I say, my kids have a long track record of good behavior. We’re in a new place now and, while there’s no chimney, I’m sure he’ll be shimmying down the elevator from the roof of our apartment building.
All that said, there’s often a certain degree of consternation in the air amongst parents – especially parents with young kids. Should we tell our kids about Santa? What if they decide they can’t trust us?
I get those concerns. I didn’t grow up with Santa through most of my childhood and I understand the reasons behind it. But I think the pros outweigh the cons, both from the perspective of parents and the perspective I recall from my own childhood.
As far as a kid’s perspective goes, the main thing I remember about not celebrating Christmas with Santa is that it marked my family as different. It’s not just that we weren’t visited by Santa, it’s that, by virtue of not including Santa, we didn’t participate in a lot of holiday traditions that other families have. Santa isn’t just a jolly old guy that brings presents, he’s a cultural touchstone. Finding out about Santa is the kind of thing that high school friends or college freshman enjoy bonding over as finals approach. He’s the focus of the holiday movies we watch, the subject of the Christmas specials, the hero of the stories we read.
Being the kid who doesn’t get to participate in that can be just as much a violation of trust as the “lie” itself. Parents are supposed to help their kids fit in and make friends and move about in society. Obviously, there are always trade-offs to be made. Just because society likes something doesn’t mean it’s healthy for kids, but, again, the pros have to be weighed against the cons. As much as parents fear psychological or spiritual damage from learning about Santa, I’ve not met any adults who point to that as the beginning of the end for them.
From the parent’s perspective, I see it as a really cool thing, too. Of course, Traditions are always fun, when you can swing ’em. The excitement of Santa is something that parents can enjoy passing on from generation to generation.
More than that, though, I think Santa can mean something really significant. Whether we talk about Santa or not, we spend a lot of our energy lying to kids. We tell them that cheaters don’t get ahead. That people get what they deserve. That if they’re good, they’ll be recognized and rewarded. We tell them that bullies can be defeated and that things always work out in the end. We tell them that people are generous, fair, and sharing. We tell them that experts are competent and that people do their best.
All of those things are, to one degree or another, lies. But they’re lies that we tell because they teach something that’s truer than the truth the lies mask. Here’s a less convoluted way of saying that: Which is more true, that there’s not a kindly, generous man who spends his life trying to bring joy to everyone in the world, or that there should be? And which is a better lesson for kids, that they should dismiss the story because no one actually lives at the North Pole, or that one day they can grow up to be that kindly old gentleman for others, maybe even their own children.
The question of whether to celebrate Christmas with Santa is more complicated than answering the question of whether or not friendly gift-givers physically exist, just like the question of whether or not people can fly is more complicated than whether gravity exists. We can fly if we use the tools we have in concert with the real world to do it. We can love Santa in the same way.