Thursday, December 27, 2007

Re-Thinking Christmas: So Long, Santa?

Can little children experience the magic of Christmas without the fat man? Should we say sainara to Santa? I don't know.

This year, we mesmerized our children with stories of a chubby old elf squeezing down the chimney and soaring through the night sky led by a magical red-nosed reindeer. We left homemade cookies out for Santa and carrots for his reindeer. We pointed out Mars in the sky and suggested it might be Rudolph's red nose. We read the Night Before Christmas and were awoken with a soft smile from our three year old and the sweet question "Has Santa come yet?"

Even as we did all that, though, I felt a little bit strange - as if I was lying to my children. When my five year old turned curious eyes to me and asked in a wonderous voice "Is Santa real?", I hesitated before answering him. After the kids went to bed, my sister shared that Rudolph was invented by Macy's to sell more consumer goods at Christmas time. It was actually Montgomery Ward's but her point was the same. Bill McKibben's Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas details how the current commercial holiday we know developed. Much of what we know about Santa and his bag full of toys was molded by marketers looking to sell more stuff. How magical is that?

Christmas should be a time to create memories filled with things we did and not things we got. I want my children to remember decorating Christmas cookies with their grandmother, playing with cousins, singing Christmas carols around a Bouche de Noel cake, going on a nature walk and leaving a gift for nature. Store-bought gifts should be secondary.

Is Santa contrary to everything I am trying to teach my boys? Can I encourage simple living with St. Nick hanging over my shoulder? If so, it may be time to kick Kriss Kringle out from under our Christmas tree.

7 comments:

Wendy said...

I had the same misgivings with our kids. I did feel like I was lying to them. And then I started really thinking about what Santa represents and if that actually had any value.

I think he represents unconditional generosity, giving without expectation of receiving. So, we decided to give some presents to charity, but sign them from Santa. That provided the opportunity to talk to the kids about how those people wouldn't feel bad about not getting us anything if we told them it was from Santa. They wouldn't feel like they were receiving charity because they were poor, but because everyone gets presents from Santa.

And our kids got to experience the feeling of giving something without getting credit for it. And, surprisingly, it's a very good feeling, just generosity, void of ego.

Green Bean said...

Wendy,

Thanks for the thoughts on this. I like how you solved the dilemma. I really am on the fence about this and my husband and I talked about it last night. He feels children should experience the joy of giving, unexplained magic and so on. Giving gifts to charity from Santa is a nice way to teach generosity - which is one of the most important things about Christmas. Thanks! And Happy New Year.

homeschoolmom said...

I've often told other parents that if I had it to do all over again, these are the things I would change with my kids: I'd get rid of the TV as soon as labor started the first time and I'd slam the door on Santa and his minions, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. My oldest is 15 and youngest is 7; only the baby still "believes." But she sits in front of the TV throughout December, because, "I need to see the commercials to tell Santa what to bring." Oy, I've clearly done something wrong!

I tried teaching my kids the historical context of Santa, and there are some really wonderful stories of generosity from around the world attributed to various St. Nick/Santa figures. But nothing has erased the guilt I felt when my 1st grader (middle son) looked at me and said, "Is Santa REAL?" It didn't help that hubby raced for the door and left me to deal with the fallout. I chose to tell the truth as I knew it; that Santa was real in different cultures at different times...but here and now, it was me and Dad.

We've shifted the focus of the holidays and have always included a charitiable giving aspect, but Santa still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. What I've noticed in the last several years is that it's almost impossible *not* to include Santa in your holiday celebration. The media makes him real even if we, as parents, don't. That's kinda creepy.

Green Bean said...

Homeschoolmom, thank you for sharing. It is so hard to know what to do and how best to handle it. It is also difficult to limit what your children are exposed to so I can understand the whole "Santa is real" thing perpetuated by the media. How do we avoid it!?! At least I have 11 months or so to try and figure it out. :)

Bayberry Roost said...

My girls are both 17. I went along with the Santa game until they were about 12 years old. Being homeschooled they didn't hear other kids say in school that there is no such thing as Santa. When they were 12, Santa hung a letter to each of them on the tree, explaining that they were old enough to be dubbed Santa's elves, and he was counting on them to help him by giving to others, and that he would not be leaving toys under the tree for them anymore but he would he always leave just one special thing for them. He also stated that he knew they were mature enough to know that Mom leaves some of those presents under the tree and Santa can only leave so many at each house. But now he'd be leaving just one gift.

This year was the first year ever, Santa forgot to leave something special on the porch, and my 17 year old daughter went in search of where Santa had left that one item. This 17 year old is attending her second semester at college, so one would deduct that she certainly can scientifically know there is no Santa. But in her heart she still wants to believe.

Santa is still thinking what to leave, and when to leave it. He's allowed to be late isn't he? After all the world population has increased. Takes more time to get around.

I guess like in the movie, "Yes Virginia There Is a Santa Claus." I feel that it's magical and fun to believe in Santa. I'm 57 and my sister is 47, and we still play like WE STILL believe in Santa.

My girls grew up without TV so I never had the problem of the Media telling my kids what they were supposed to ask for. Most of their gifts over the years came from catalogues like Hearth Song and our local toys stores Alphabet Soup and Cat's Pajamas.

Most of those toys we still have and my kids will pass them on to their kids. So I don't feel there is any waste.

I would ask the girls what they hope Santa will bring them, and quite a few years in a row one of my daughters said: "Santa always brings things I like. He'll know what to bring." -Ahhh life without a TV all these years has been wonderful.

To sum this long comment up, from my experience, the TV should GO, but Santa stays.

Wendy said...

We read L. Frank Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, which shows Santa as slightly different than the commercial version, and of course, ALL of the "toys" (and it is always toys) he gives are hand-made, by him.

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