Last week I picked apart the Christmas Tree. This week: Santa.
Here’s the deal: Santa Claus is the most well-intentioned, beloved lie we tell our kids. But, at the end of the season, it’s still a lie. And sooner or later, your kids will get suspicious.
Maybe it’ll happen when she sees Santa at Macy’s and JC Penney at the same time. Or wonders how Santa got inside when there’s no chimney in the apartment. Or when he notices that shopping mall Santa’s beard is held on with elastic.
That’s when your child turns to you, the person s/he trusts more than anyone in the world, and asks, “Is Santa real?” And we’ll look into those big, trusting eyes, and lie through our teeth: “Of course Santa’s real!”
However, your intrinsically wise child remains somewhat skeptical, and will eventually turn to the real authority: friends. Who’ll ridicule her/his naivety mercilessly. The next time s/he brings up the topic with you, it won’t be a question. It will be an accusation.
Trust me, I’ve taken that dart. It stings.
It happened one random December day, my kids in the back seat, chattering about what they wanted from Santa, and my son (ever the most helpful of the two) blurted out, “Santa isn’t real, stupid!” to his younger sister. She fired me an angry glance in the rearview mirror.
“Mom, Jimmy says Santa’s not real!”
I didn’t see it coming. I faltered. How could I wiggle out of this with that gleeful little witness poised to pounce on my response? I sputtered a weak reply and the boy sprang: “See? He’s not real! Mom made it all up!” and then cackled gleefully as he savored his sister’s shock and horror.
Did she punch her brother in the head for saying horrible things about Santa? Oh no. Her little face twisted in red fury, and she glared at me and spat, “You lied to me!”
Unlike the boy, who, upon discovering Santa wasn’t real, played along with it, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, because the end result was lots of toys, my daughter had only one interpretation: My mother will lie to me. It was the first time that thought had entered her head. And, if I lied about something as important as Santa, what else might I lie about? Could I ever be trusted again?
Oh, how I wished for a Santa do-over. If only I’d taken a casual “it’s all just for fun” angle on Santa. But there aren’t any do-overs in parenting, are there. Once you’ve stepped in a big, steaming pile of lies, there’s no getting it off your shoe. You are, and always shall be, suspect. And wait until you get to the hard stuff, like smoking pot and sex. That Santa thing will come around and bite you in the butt. Your kids will turn to their friends for the truth.
That’s why I cringe a little when I hear parents telling their kids about Santa. It seems sweet and harmless now, but there will come a moment when it won’t be. And it will sting.
Far worse, however, than being forced to wear a scarlet L, are all those kids who are so good all year, trusting that Santa will bring them toys, but on Christmas morning, the toys aren’t there. For some, there’s nothing under the Christmas tree. Some don’t even have a tree because their parents had to buy food instead. It’s heartbreaking.
At best, those children will doubt Santa’s existence. At worst, they’ll conclude that they’re unworthy. For some reason they can’t detect, they don’t deserve any presents. Santa just doesn’t like them. That’s the ugly underbelly of the Santa story. I want to scoop all those kids up, and hug them and tell them it’s not them, that Santa’s just a cruel lie, and that yes, life is unfair now, but they’ll have a chance to make it better someday. But my scooper’s just not big enough.
Beyond disappointed kids, the magnitude of people feeling alone and left out at this time of year gnaws at me. And it’s not just about presents. Some are homeless, or alone, or grieving for a loved one. Sure, that’s true all year, but at Christmas, it seems as garish and glaring as Rudolph’s nose.
That’s why the song “Grown Up Christmas List” just tears me up: “No more lives torn apart, and wars would never start, and time would heal all hearts … Everyone would have a friend, and right would always win, and love would never end … This is my grown-up Christmas list.” Yes, that’s what I want for Christmas.
Ironically, it’s a song to Santa. It begins, “Do you remember me? I sat upon your knee. I wrote to you with childhood fantasies.” Well, aren’t we in a pickle, having established Santa’s not real. But maybe wishing that everyone could be happy and loved is as ridiculous as believing that flying reindeer can pull a big, fat elf in a magic sleigh across the world and bring toys to every child in one night. Carried in one sack.
(Really? We believed this, ever?)
But recently I read about a guy who put on a Santa suit, traveled to the East Coast and handed out $100 bills to Hurricane Sandy victims. He plans to give away $100,000, one Ben Franklin at a time, to anyone who seems to be in need, in honor of his deceased friend who did likewise for two decades.
Another Secret Santa walked into an Arizona Walmart last week and anonymously paid off the layaway bills for toys for 20 families. The store clerks said the people cried when they found out.
Wow. A Santa who commits random, anonymous acts of kindness and generosity. Not because you’re naughty or nice. Just because. And, we could all be that Santa, in our own little way. I think that’s a much better Christmas story to tell our kids, don’t you?
— Email Debra at [email protected]; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.edebra.com