Ah, Santa. That jolly old elf. For a chubby guy who brings free presents once a year he can sure cause quite a debate – even among fellow “Santa Believers.” Should we tell our kids the truth? Should we let them enjoy the magic of Christmas? Should we educate them on the accurate history? Should he bring the big gifts? The little ones? All of them or just a few? When do we tell our kids? What do we do if they find out?
I remember as a young child I caught my parents putting the gifts under the tree. I was really upset – I felt tricked. So I did what any logical person would do – I woke my 2-years-younger brother and showed him what I’d discovered. He cried, and I immediately realized what I’d done. Luckily he was still half asleep, so between that, the glorious opening of gifts in the morning, and the following 364 day wait until next year his pain was short-lived, but I still feel guilty about it.
When Emily’s first Christmas came around the Santa discussions began. All the questions above came into play, and in the end we decided not to give it too much thought. One thing we knew for sure, we didn’t want Santa to get the credit for everything. He wasn’t going to bring the best gifts – we wanted our kids to be able to express gratitude directly to the giver. He wasn’t going to be responsible for all the magic – we shopped for stocking stuffers together so Christmas morning our girls would know who had stuffed them overnight. Presents are wrapped and placed under the tree as they are bought. Then on Christmas morning the girls find a couple of small gifts under the tree wrapped in special Santa Claus paper that weren’t there the night before… evidence that Santa had been there!
We’ve never really associated Santa with their behavior (although Jay just confessed that he’s teased Emily about it). The gifts under our tree are not rewards for a year of kindness and good behavior, they are there because we love them and wanted to experience the joy of giving. No emphasis is placed on Santa as the “Spirit of Christmas” or anything like that. He’s on the same page as Frosty and Rudolph, Jack Frost and the Polar Express. If our girls want to believe, we play along. We take their lead.
Emily had one year (I think she was 4) where she really believed – not so much in Santa bringing gifts on Christmas Eve or that he was watching her behavior, but just that there was a nice guy in a red suit who wanted to give her a gift. A sweet friend’s husband came by dressed in the suit, and Emily was beside herself with joy. Aside from Santa visits at her daycare that was the only experience she’d ever had with the guy. She brings it up now and then around the holidays, but I think it served more as a happy memory rather than a miraculous event.
This weekend we took Julia to see Santa for the first time. We took our free photos and have a memory now. But most likely we will not be visiting again unless she asks to do so. We actually debated this year whether or not to tell Emily the truth, but to be honest we forgot about it until earlier this month and by then it just seemed mean to drop it on her weeks before Christmas. She’s started to question it a little, and we can tell that movies like The Santa Claus have started to make her wonder. We don’t want to tell her, I think we are secretly hoping someone at school spills the beans or even that she catches us in the act. I’ve even considered “accidentally” letting her find the special Santa paper or the gift he’s going to bring.
Yes, we are sure the magic will be gone soon. And when the truth is revealed we are confident that she won’t think we lied to her. Knowing Emily, she already knows and has been playing along for years. It wouldn’t surprise us. And even if it does hurt her a little, I think when she grows and has littles of her own she’ll understand why we did it and forgive us. And promptly start wondering how her family will handle Santa.
For now though, in our house, we will continue to enjoy those cookies.