Monday, December 24, 2012

Yes, James, there is a Santa Clause

As a gentle parent I've been privy to some interesting debate regarding the Santa Claus ruse.  Do you tell your child there is a Santa, do you parade them out for Christmas pics, write letters, and set out a tray of milk and cookies every Christmas Eve?  Or is it a breech of trust between you and your children to engage in a lie, even if it seems harmless enough?

I'll be honest, the issue has never really existed for us.  In fact, this is the first year it ever occurred to me that some parents might not do the Santa thing.  Don't get me wrong.  I get it.  The blatant consumerism.  The coercive message of the naughty or nice list.  The inevitable reveal of the truth.  Yes, I can see why one might choose not to do the Santa thing.  But I guess when my son asks, I'll respond, "Yes, James, there is a Santa Claus."

Because for us it's never been much of a choice.  I grew up in a household obsessed with Christmas, and while not all my holidays memories are sugar-coated (there is such a thing as holiday exhaustion), Christmas was truly a magical time of the year for us.  In a house where less was often less and penny-pinching was the norm, Christmas was extravagant.  Now let me explain, it wasn't the amount of money spent.  I would guess by most people's standards my parents spent very little, although it was certainly something they saved for and spent a considerable amount for our family on.  No, my parents had strict budgets and shopped accordingly.  I am reasonably sure my Dad socked away a little extra because on Christmas morning there were always extra Santa gifts even my Mom was surprised over.  It was the amount of time and planning spent to find the perfect gifts for each of us.  Not the biggest, fanciest, most expensive presents, but the ones truly from the heart.  My American Girl doll I'd dreamed of for years or the Monopoly game in French shipped to my sister from a shop in Paris long before the internet made such things easy.

Santa was a staple in our house.  Each of us chose a special cookie for his tray and carrots for the reindeer, and Santa in return left a note in the fireplace, carrots tops in the snow, and presents wrapped in his own special paper.  My Dad didn't just take us to sit on Santa's lap, he made him come alive.  One Christmas my mother spent hours making him a beautiful, old-fashioned Santa suit and surprised him on Christmas morning. I think I can safely assume it falls in the top ten gifts of his lifetime.

Perhaps it's my blatant love of theatricality, but I never resented this magical time.  As the oldest of four, I went along with it and never told after I realized the truth.  I'll admit I was in third grade when I started doubting.  It had come up at school, and I'm happy to report even at that wise old age, there were several of us who still believed.  I told my Mom, but didn't breathe a word to my Dad.  When my sisters realized the truth, we all beat around the bush trying not to reveal it to one another lest the other one still believed.  In my more cynical teenage years, we'd laugh a bit about how hard our parents worked to keep Santa real.

My younger brother, who is 10 years my junior, believed the longest.  I think.  He never admitted to not believing, and at some point I realized he was now the one pretending and playing along.  He was keeping Santa real for my father.  When my son was born in 2007, the magic was reborn.  I am absolutely certain that one of the most joyful things about announcing my pregnancy to my father was knowing he would play Santa to my child as well.  For the first two years of being a parent, Santa visited my parents house and we stayed there and awoke to magical Christmas mornings.  This year Santa, in the form of my husband and I, will visit our own house as we spend our first Christmas with our children at home.

It's bittersweet.  I know in many ways we are taking the reigns on Santa Claus and I know our version of the magic will be different, but meaningful.  Honestly, I'm a little nervous because I have big shoes to fill.  You see when I started thinking about telling my kids about Santa and why we do it, I realized something.  Not one of us ever told our Dad we didn't believe in Santa, because we do believe in Santa Claus.  We weren't playing along.  We weren't lying or pretending.  Santa Claus is real; he's my Dad.
(Originally published on

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