Why I’m not investing my child’s imagination in Santa Claus

Photo by J. Carter

Photo by J. Carter

I honestly can’t remember at what age I knew that Santa Claus didn’t exist. Being the introvert that I’ve always been, I tended to quietly observe rather than bombard with questions and my mom never really made a big thing of Santa story-telling. In fact, I can only remember pretending that I thought Santa was real and that the extra gifts labeled “from Santa” was just something to play along with. These memories go back to at least the age of 6. Of course, every year it was the same. Presents gradually found themselves joined by more presents under the tree weeks before Christmas day arrived. Santa was supposed to arrive the night before Christmas… and those stockings were always stuffed days before that morning! My mom even caught me red-handed once—standing on top of a chair peeking into one of them. The mystery of it all killed me! I had to know what was in there!

But I can recall no threats of not being visited by Santa for naughty behavior or insistent lies of his existence. In fact, the day my mother broke the news to me that good ol’ St. Nick didn’t really exist never came. At least not that I recall. I suppose it was an understood truth or that my mom knew that I knew better. I enjoyed the fantasy of it a little. But I had much greater sense of fantasy and imagination to entertain me than the bestselling myths of Santa.

Fast forward a couple of decades [and change] and the time has come for me to share this holiday joy as a mother. This year marks our 14 month old son’s second Christmas as well as our second December in the wintry atmosphere of New England and the decorum of holiday cheer is everywhere. But, I’m not gonna lie. I still dearly miss our warmer weather Christmas holidays back home in Florida (even if it didn’t feel like a cinematic Christmas). Snow just isn’t as all that it’s cracked up to be after the first few falls… I know… BA-humbug. Nevertheless, there is something enchanting [that somewhat counters the SAD] about spending the wintry holidays in the northeast.  Or perhaps that’s just the perspective of a new mom excited to decorate and celebrate American traditions like hot cocoa, string lights, Harry Potter marathons, and red striped pajamas.

Tangent ahead…

Skip to the next section if you’d like to get to the point of my story or keep reading if you don’t mind a short philosophical detour (It is Sagittarius Season after all): 

I know for many this might sound offensive as some rush to point out that these things aren’t the essence of Christmas. Though I mean no disrespect, I don’t identify as a Christian. At least not the way that most of the Christians I know consider the religion.  It wasn’t until I met my partner that I realized that the only thing needed to be a Christian is to be a follower of Christ; that is, to be truly compassionate, loving, kind, honest, and upright. While my discovery of texts like Autobiography of a Yogi and the likes of my partner showed me the graciousness that Christ Consciousness bestows, the dogmatic and judgmental folk that often toot their own horns for being Christian do not represent Christ in an authentic way. They may indeed be Christian [as we are all flawed in our own human way], but those qualities and behaviors do not a Christian make. Considering that I was raised in my early adolescent years as a closeted Wiccan who had to hide her pentagram under her shirt (safely hidden from most of her peers) throughout junior high, I didn’t grow up experiencing the gaze of Christianity as an accepting religion. People tend to assume the worst of practitioners of magic or anything that strays from the familiar. Even those who have previously practiced magic (or knew someone that did), but had negative experiences, tend to make umbrella statements and assumptions that set certain expectations that are hard to rectify. That said, I don’t formally identify as being a Christian as most would presume that I follow a set of rigid rules and adopt certain perspectives that I don’t actually subscribe to. I’m not anti-Christ. I just don’t check the box.

Back to the Santa story

Despite my new-mom excitement to share culture and traditions (including those of the cheery Christmas season) with the little human we are raising, we don’t intend to initiate our son into the modern American myth-telling of Santa Claus. I should mention that this post isn’t meant to preach or put down another parent’s decision to pass down the modern notion of Santa Claus. But if you’re a future parent thinking about what you want to share with your children or if you’re a parent who thinks taking the time to think this one out a little more, this might be for you. Here are several reasons why I proposed to my partner that we forego the tradition. Side note: Apparently we were already on the same page before I had even mentioned the matter to him.

  1. It seems pointless to lie to little L about something he will eventually learn isn’t true. 

    The potential consequences of injuring his trust in us is not something I’m willing to sacrifice for a short-lived fantasy that serves no other purpose than to entertain. It’s unfair to everyone involved.

  2. I suspect said fabricated stories could actually damage his relationship to real magic and wonder down the road.

    I wonder how many people miss out on the true experience of magic because they no longer believe it exists after learning of all the made up stories their parents (or other people) insisted they believe in. Magic is real, and I intend for my son to enter his later years having a clean slate in relation to it.

  3. We don’t agree that telling him the truth about Santa denies him a childhood fantasy life.

    Fantasy isn’t restricted to the young and anyone can foster a healthy imagination. Santa isn’t needed for that. The act of feeding the story of Santa to a child neither blesses them with or steals an imagination.

  4. We don’t want to raise unattainable expectations around the act of gift-giving, nor do we want the holiday to emphasize getting presents or performing upright behavior for a reward.

    Understanding that the gifts come from Mami + Papi or grandma and grandpa is one of the ways our son will learn to appreciate that resources are finite and that work and time went into manifesting those gifts. Ponies or light sabers don’t just magically appear under the tree… at least not unless one of us was actively performing said magic! This will be useful to appreciate later in life when he learns of the dwindling resources that make up our earth.

    Bribing and threatening with warnings of a naughty-list also seems counter-productive to the behavior we want to teach little L to adopt. We feel that offering gifts unconditionally demonstrates a more authentic Christmas message and encourages the act of unconditional love and giving. Instead of stressing about receiving, we hope L will set his intentions on paying acts of kindness forward.

  5. We want to pass on the value of history and passing down the origin story of the real Saint Nicholas seems like a good place to start.

    The fat, white, jolly Saint Nick born of professor Clement Moore’s poem of the early 1820’s and cartoon illustrations [from the late 1800’s] by Thomas Nast distracts from the spiritual significations traditionally tied to the patron of unmarried women, children, and sailor… (aka planet Jupiter in the flesh). Saint Nicholas was a 4th century Greek Christian bishop residing in Turkey. Aside from altruism, blessings, healing, and abundance, the recurring theme that arises with Saint Nicholas is the number 3: The anonymous delivery of three bags of gold to a man intent on saving his three daughters from being forced into prostitution (or some version of that); the revival and rescue of three murdered children; and the rescue of three sailors out at sea. The number 3 is tied to many spiritual archetypes and symbols, but considering Saint Nick was a Christian devotee, the number 3 clearly hints at the Holy Trinity. As it so happens, Saint Nicholas Day falls on December 6.

    I’m not robbing my son of lovely memories. I’m just making sure that the ones we create aren’t perpetuating an unhelpful myth. We aren’t going to discourage him from participating in the Santa game. We’ll play along with him and we’ll even make sure to teach him how not to spoil the experience for other kids whose parents have taken a different path to the Christmas tradition. We may not agree about how to share the Christmas spirit, but I think we can all agree that Christmas is about love and it’s about magic.

Ashley OteroComment