As seen at the Good Men Project, but with some extra edits for the tao of jaklumen
Is there a Santa Claus? Is Santa real?
I have read differing opinions, not just from parents, but individuals in other family roles, or people just caring for children. They seemed to be torn between rational practicality of adulthood and the seemingly magical faith of childhood: that either they were lying to children, or they were destroying time-honored tradition.
First of all, I think we need to give children more credit. A lot more credit. I speak from my memories as a child, my memories as a parent, and as a man who put on the red suit twice to portray the mythical figure himself.
It’s quite possible to do both.
Children are clever. I remember figuring things out as a child, and I’ve noticed many children, including my own, are very quick to observe. I could remember my parents being incredibly exasperated that the oldest of my three younger sisters and I would repeatedly try to sneak around and figure out what was going on, whether they were filling stockings, or whether a friend of the family was portraying Santa at home or at church.
But I got an idea that Santa was a role in school, being taught the “Secret Santa” tradition one year. I learned that the gift exchange was a way to bond as a friend to a classmate. Sure, we all had to come up with devious schemes to avoid blowing the surprise. But I don’t think any of us saw it as silly superstition or unacceptable deception.
Long before my wife and I decided to answer our children’s questions as honestly and appropriately as we could, I remember my sister telling me that she’d asked my maternal grandmother about Santa, and that Grandma had revealed everything. It wasn’t too long after that that my parents decided to recruit me, at least, to the tradition. I think they saw it as convenient to feed a young hungry teenager (who was delivering a paper route) some of the treats that my two younger sisters left for Santa. It was incredibly meaningful, however. I secretly kept a card they had left for many, many years. To this day, I am not certain they know I still have the card.
As I was wrapping up my post-secondary schooling, I took employment working as a mall Santa. People of all ages, boys and girls, and grown women, sat on my lap and told me about their wishes (in English and Spanish) for Christmas. They came from all sorts of different backgrounds, but their participation in the tradition seemed honest and sincere. The second time I worked the gig, an older gentleman who had worked previously told me about his experience. I told him that I took the role very seriously. I’d done character work (as a company mascot) before, but this was much more personal.
I had applied sending a picture of my infant daughter sleeping on my chest. The employer decided to take a few more pictures of me with my wife, and with my daughter, to send to corporate. At this time, my daughter was only about a year or two old, an age that I saw can be very difficult for children. I’d seen far too many times that parents would try to force the situation to get a Christmas photo, and I became very staunchly opposed to that. We quickly found that my daughter was quite comfortable sitting with me. For quite a few years, I was the only Santa she had sat with or would sit for.
As I said before, children are quick to observe. I joke to other adults that I’m not the parent who brags about their children’s accomplishments; I’m the parent who hangs his head and laments that his children are too smart for their own good. Julie and I discovered that we were going to need to give more of the story to our daughter pretty fast. She wanted to know, and she wasn’t going to accept friends or family pretending to be Santa anymore. One Christmas Eve, she just wouldn’t go to sleep without seeing Santa (i.e. meet him)– neither my father-in-law nor a recorded message was going to provide a solution. While we had discussed whether or not to deploy the myth before we had children, she decided we’d practice the tradition, and I of course, accepted. But I could see that it wasn’t going to last too much longer. So we dug out the photo and we explained that the person dressed as Santa was me– so, quite literally, Santa was her father.
It was then that I learned Julie had revealed to her that she was the Tooth Fairy, so this revelation dovetailed quite closely with that one. Julie believes quite firmly that when children ask a question, they deserve an answer that is honest and appropriate to their understanding.
I couldn’t help but feel all fuzzy inside when I explained to her that for a time, I was the only Santa she’d sit for. She accepted it all with grace and love, and she quickly agreed to join us in practicing the tradition for her little brother, as well as a promise not to spoil the magic for others. She doesn’t need magic, though– I was so pleased to let her know that Santa is another expression of our love for her. When I talked with her recently, she said she realized it was me, because something was different. Clever girl.
So again, Santa for our family is not really that much different from the gift exchanges someone would participate in at school, work, or church. And when I think I’ve met more men that have donned the red suit as I have, and talked to them about their experience, I say with conviction that none of them believe they are teaching children a superstition or a lie. And for one, his daughter knows exactly what her father does, and is quick to remind me not to spoil the surprise for younger children in our church congregation.
We are all Santa. Some of us have taken that more closely than others, but we know the meaning is the same.
Do you celebrate a tradition of gift giving this season? (Hint: it doesn’t have to be Santa-related, or specifically tied to Nikolaos of Myra.) Please let me know in the comments. Links to blog posts are welcome!