By Natalie Mills of Chrysalis Counseling
This is the first year that I have taken any pause to think about the way we are talking to my seven year old and four year old grandson about Santa Clause. His thinking is so grown up these days and he’s even a bit cocky and sassy. I worry about him feeling betrayed or duped, or less trusting of adults when he finds out the truth.
I know some parents tell their kids the truth from the outset out of an ideal of being honest and educational with their kids. Some folks discourage anything Santa because of a concern that it will detract from the spiritual meaning of Christmas. I’m sure there are stories out there of people who resented being “lied to” about Santa, but it might be more about how some parents take Santa to the extreme. When Santa, (or his elves) are overemphasized and used as a daily behavior manipulating tool at an age when kids may truly develop fears around a mysterious being watching you all day and tattling on you, then no, I don’t really think that’s a good thing. Sorry, Elf on the Shelf folks. It may have started as a cute harmless thing, but for some the Elf things might be getting out of hand. Honestly, I have similar concerns about Sunday School and Christian teachers who do the same thing regarding Jesus. “You are making Jesus sad”, or “hurting His feelings” or “he knows the bad things you have done and there will consequences even if no one else knows”. I’m not making these up, I have heard them all and worse. However, if its treated lightly, the Santa-knows-when-you’ve-been-bad thing is a harmless part of the story and makes it a bit of a game.
I remember the utter excitement, the wonder, and the magic of Christmas being so enhanced by expecting Santa Clause. We were a family very devoted to the spiritual meaning of Christmas and Santa did not in any detract from that. Just like if you were to have a Christmas Ham and a Christmas Turkey, one would not detract from the other, it would just mean more good stuff to enjoy. If as a parent you don’t neglect to talk about the meaning of Christmas in your faith, and also talk about Santa, well then that’s just Ham plus Turkey.
When I was little we often had cake for dessert after dinner. My mom would say “There are a couple special toothpicks in the cake and if you get a piece with a toothpick in it, it means you have to kiss the cook. There was something magical about that. If we got a toothpick we were special. We were always excited to be the one who got a toothpick, and we always got up and kissed our mom. I never thought much about that when I was older, but later, when I was learning to cook and making cakes, I read in the recipe to put a couple toothpicks in the cake to hold the layers together so the top wouldn’t slip off. I realized then, this is why my mom really put the toothpicks in the cake. It was a sweet realization and brought up sweet memories of my mom and our family. I think believing in Santa can have the same kind of effect.
I look back on my memories of Christmas and Santa Clause and only have good, fun memories of writing him letters and imagining with wonder how he did all the things he did. I remember the night I stayed up all night with my sister waiting for him to come and the utter amazement that in spite of how watchful we had been, he had managed to deliver our presents and eat the cookies. Until today, I had never stopped to think about any memories I might have about finding out he wasn’t real, or if I was disappointed or felt lied to. I don’t have any. I don’t remember how/when I found out. I guess it wasn’t significant enough to be memorable. I think now, I won’t worry about my grandkids feeling too bad about it when they find out Santa isn’t real.