Thursday, December 6, 2012

On Saying No To Santa

I'm about to share something that will probably have people grabbing tinsel-covered pitch forks to come hunt me down (assuming anyone reads it.) Baby Darling will not believe in Santa Claus. We're not "doing" Santa. Baby D will get presents (so far for his first Christmas, we've gotten him a ton of books, a bead maze, one of those giant wooden puzzles with only three pieces, a ball pit, some pajamas, bath toys, a toy gingerbread man, a swing, and a giant stuffed hedgehog. Because nothing says Christmas like a stuffed hedgehog. Obviously.), but he will know that the presents are from us, not from Santa.

The one other time I dared to confess online that we aren't "doing" Santa, the automatic and overwhelming assumption was that I'm a Christmas-hating Scroogy Grinch with a heart two sizes too small, which could not be further from the truth. (Except maybe the heart thing. I couldn't say, having never measured it. But I assume it's the normal size.) I love Christmas. It is my favorite holiday by far. For the past four years, we have always had at least two full-sized Christmas trees in our house at Christmas, along with a few smaller ones. I once wrote on this very blog about how I managed to convince Dr. D to let me leave the Christmas tree up until June. (I chickened out in late February and finally took it down, but still.) At last count, our family of three owns at least ten Christmas stockings. Dr. D and I got married a few days before Christmas, and the church and reception venue were decorated for Christmas from top to bottom. But I'm just not into the whole Santa thing. Before I explain why, let me say this in huge, bold letters: I HAVE NOTHING AGAINST ANYONE WHO CHOOSES TO TELL THEIR KIDS THAT SANTA IS REAL. I DO NOT JUDGE YOUR PARENTING CHOICES OR YOU AS A PERSON. I DO NOT THINK THAT YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE SCREWED UP FOR LIFE WHEN THEY FIND OUT HE'S NOT REAL. I THINK THAT YOU ARE PROBABLY A VERY NICE, LOVING PERSON WHO JUST HAPPENS TO MAKE PARENTING CHOICES THAT ARE DIFFERENT THAN MY OWN, AND I HAVE NOTHING AGAINST THAT. This post is not about you and your parenting decisions, it's about me and mine. Many things have been written "in defense of" Santa that are much more eloquent and meaningful than anything I've ever written, and I think that's great. Like 90% of the population, I smile when I read "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." But I'm not "playing Santa" with my own child, and here's why.

For starters - and this is my main reason - I don't want to lie. I think this is the reason that gets people all up in arms, because it makes people mad to feel like they're being called liars. And I've heard all of the arguments that it's not lying, it's "pretending," or "make believe," or "tradition." But if I say to my child, "Santa is real. The gifts under the tree are from him. He came down our chimney and left them for you," that's a lie. To me, it's different than saying to my child, "let's play a game and pretend you're a puppy and I'm your owner," because my child knows that he is not a puppy (I mean, he doesn't know that YET,because he's only nine months old, but he'll know someday). I am not trying to convince him that he is, in fact, a puppy. We are playing a game, and he knows it's a game. But if we "play a game of pretend," and I never tell him that it's a game of pretend, and I do everything I can to convince him that it's NOT a game of pretend, and I create elaborate schemes to convince him that it's real, then he doesn't know that it's just a fun game of "make believe," and I honestly don't see how that's somehow different than an outright lie. And if I'm going to teach my child that he shouldn't lie, I don't know how I can blatantly lie to him. I understand that there may be times when I might end up lying to my child out of what seems like necessity. The only one I can think of off of the top of my head is if Baby D should ever knock on our bedroom door while we're having sex and want to know why we won't open up. But I'm sure that other situations will arise where I won't be quick enough on my feet and I'll end up lying to avoid telling Baby D something that he shouldn't know. I'm not saying that's right, but I'm saying it might happen. But I just can't justify intentionally, repeatedly lying to Baby D while telling him it's not ok for him to do it.

(I didn't make that, I've just seen it re-pinned nine million times on Pinterest, presumably by teens. 
So this idea has obviously occurred to people besides me.)

My second reason is that I don't like the "spin" it puts on getting presents. Santa keeps track of who is good and who is bad, and only children who are good get presents. So the gifts children get at Christmas are not expressions of love from parents who worked hard to earn the money so that they could give nice things to the children they adore, they are things that the children earned and are owed because of good behavior. It's not, "wow, Mom and Dad, thank you so much," it's, "I was good, so I deserve these gifts from Santa. If I'd been bad, I would have gotten coal." Which brings me to my next point:

The tradition of Santa is often used to teach children to behave well for the wrong reasons. I know that this isn't necessarily a huge part of the Santa tradition for all families, but with the increasing popularity of the "Elf on the Shelf," it seems to be becoming more and more of a focus. You shouldn't hit your sister. Not because it's unkind. Not because it hurts her and you wouldn't like it if she hit you. But because Santa will know, and he won't give you any presents. It shifts the focus from doing the right thing because it's the right thing to doing the right thing because you're going to get something out of it. Would it be easier to be able to spend the whole month of December and at least half of November getting my child to be good because he's afraid he'll end up with nothing but a lump of coal in his stocking? Probably. But in the long run, I don't think it will teach him the lessons I want him to learn.

I know that on the off-chance that anyone reads this, someone will inevitably respond with "if your child tells my child that Santa's not real, I will... (punch you in the nose, tell my child to punch your child in the nose, cry, never allow my child to play with yours again, call your child an ugly liar, etc), so my next post will address that. In the meantime, I'll be on the lookout for any angry elves that might be coming my way.


Jen said...

Only one thing comes to mind: "Never say never."

Sarah said...

my family never really did christmas. well, we did when we were really little, but sometime around the time that i turned nine my parents realized that if they wanted us to be able to know our own religion we'd have to stop celebrating other religion's holidays. (christmas lights and christmas songs are still all time favorites of me and my sisters, though.)

anyway, by the time my brothers came along (there's a twelve year difference between me and the older one) santa was just not an issue. (though my dad did stick toys in our fireplace for a few years, because... mixed signals?) there was, however, the tooth fairy. we were big with her. when we would forget to switch out teeth for money, we'd write a note the next night with some creative explanation. the younger of my brothers started writing notes to her with every tooth he lost. it was cute for a while. but now my brothers are twelve and eleven and somehow still believe in the tooth fairy. (i think i was in first grade when i learned the truth. i guess private school boys don't discuss these kinds of things?) it's obviously time they knew the truth, but none of us can bring ourselves to tell them that we've been lying to them and actively making them believe in the lie for the past twelve years. i have in-depth big life conversations with the twelve year, which makes it even worse for some reason. i can discuss things with him as if he was my age, but i can't say the tooth fairy is not real, because i just feel bad about it.

anyway, this was an excessively long way of saying that not only do you have the right to raise your kid however you want to, but that i totally get it. i do.

Sandy K. said...

Very well stated, says the person who still loves Santa. I think the thing we did right about keeping Santa alive in our family was NOT tieing the "good vs bad" concept to "him." Santa was always the good guy who just loves children. The other part of Christmas, which was more important, was the Birth of Baby Jesus. So...everyone parents the best way they know how and you're just fine and your children won't be damaged:). If love is the bottom line - what else matters?

Katherine said...

We don't do Santa in our house, either. And I've been accused of many things, from raising my children to be cynics to taking the magic out of the holiday. But even without Santa, my children are still awake at 4:30 am on Christmas morning, their faces alight with anticipation. There is still joy and magic and beauty, even without Santa.

We decided against Santa for many of the same reasons. But also, how do you explain poverty? How do you explain that Santa only brings presents to rich children and not to poor children? How can I convince my children to donate their outgrown toys to charity if Santa is supposed to provide Christmas to everyone?

Dr Zibbs said... aliiiive...

Good to see you back. Also, after 6 years I finally posted a picture of myself. It's on my blog a few posts back.

Anonymous said...

You just listed all the reasons why we aren't doing Santa, either. Our daughter is 20 months old and we plan to tell her about Santa and the elves and the reindeer and all that, but to make it clear that it's a "fairy tale".

PS It's good to see you back :-)

Raine said...

Very interesting. We do santa, but I think those are very valid reasons not to.

Katja said...

No parent should judge another for their decisions, I think they're valid reasons for baby D. My parents fed me the Santa stuff until my cousin ruined it when I was 6.

I think that Santa should represent a sense of imagination for children, a chance to let them dream that anything or anyone can exist,half of it is parents doing it for themselves, recreating their own happy childhoods.

I also see Santa and the Easter Bunny as ways of preserving innocence in children, the same way we feed our kids lots of crap to keep them young for as long as we can. There's so many harsh honest truths out there anyway that for the parents that do decide to keep the fairytale alive its a chance to let kids be kids and let those adorable imaginations run wild.

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Sveva Guedroitz said...

I think it's a good thing to let your child know that santa doesn't exist, in return, he'll be grateful!

lots of love, The young kitchen xx

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