A good friend of mine recently posted a link to his social media for an article about parenting, and the Santa Myth. The article was a decent take on one parent’s attempt to balance the idea of letting their kids believe in Santa Claus, while at the same time preparing for the day they stop believing. I have some strong thoughts about Santa, but I didn’t want to start a big long essay on my friends post, so I figured it would be a good topic to blog about.
When it comes to Santa Claus, I’m not a fan. When my kids were little Santa was just another cute story told around the holidays, but from their youngest ages my sons always knew who was putting the presents under the tree. My aversion to perpetuating the Santa Myth started from one of the core arguments that the PBS article gives, namely that doing the whole Santa deal means lying to your children.
When I was a young child, my mom let me believe in Santa Claus for many years. I even have photos of me as a young child on Santa’s lap. That all changed when I was 6 years old and I overheard her talking on the phone to one of her friends. I don’t recall the exact conversation she was having, but I do remember that I heard something that told me the trust, and I was devastated. I cried a good long time upon hearing that Santa wasn’t real.
The truth was, I didn’t care if Santa was real or fake; it was made very clear to me that my mom had been putting the presents under the tree, and that she would continue to do so. I was upset that my mom, someone I trusted implicitly, had been lying to me. Even at six years old I was confused as to why my mom would lie to me about something like Santa. I didn’t understand why he was so important, that it justified deceiving me.
I still maintain that position today. One might simply dismiss my dislike of the Santa Myth as the scars of a childhood memory. But as a parent, I had an opportunity to re-examine my thinking when my first child was born. As an adult, I thought not just about the memories of how I learned the “truth” about Santa, but also what the whole myth really means to me.
The idea of Santa irks me, and I think the core reason is that it feels like a misrepresentation of what a season, and spirit, of giving is really supposed to be about. The idea of sharing and giving to others is an important lesson that children should learn. However, the Santa Myth turns giving into getting. In order to get presents from Santa you need be on his nice list. This means that the entire present exchange becomes an act of trying to earn your gifts, because if you’re on the naughty list you don’t get anything. The presents magically appear, and the emphasis isn’t about giving a gift, but simply getting something.
My children’s mother and I agreed that this wasn’t the lesson that we wanted to teach the boys. We made a decision to not perpetuate the Santa Myth in our house, and instead, we emphasized the importance of the season as one where you give to others. My ex-wife had a passion for charity, and all throughout the boys early years, we would spend many hours buying gifts for shoeboxes for the poor, or Angel Tree donations. Then, as a family, we would spend a couple of evenings packing and wrapping all of the donations that we were giving. The whole family would then bring the donations, to the drop-off sites for their distribution. We did this for most of the years that the boys were growing up.
I don’t feel bad about not doing the whole Santa thing with my kids, and so far my kids haven’t expressed any concerns that they feel that they missed out on something. I’ve even seen small glimpses that the seeds that we sowed might actually be paying off. One of my boys goes out of his way to make sure he spends some of his money to buy presents for a few people, giving thoughtful gifts to people he cares about.
I’m certainly not judging anyone who wants to do Santa with their kids, that’s a choice every parent has to make. However, for me, the Santa Myth is one of those stories I’m more than happy to leave in the pages of a book.