It was Christmas 2007. Davey was deployed, and I was struggling, and that Christmas Eve, I’d stayed up till nearly 2:30AM, assembling a lovely, retro-style, play kitchen with ten million parts and instructions written in Chinese. I was exhausted by the time I was done, but this was to be three-year-old Rosie’s big gift – her Santa gift – and it was just adorable. So worth it, I thought.
In the morning, when Rosie stumbled into the darkened living room, lit only by the tiny, multicolored lights of the tree, she stopped and stared. When at last she had wrapped her mind around what she was seeing, she just breathed, “Oh, thank you, Mommy!” And I gritted my teeth, smiled and said, “That’s from Santa!”
That’s the year I began to hate him.
After that, I started to notice the things my children thought and said about Santa. “Why don’t poor kids just ask Santa for what they need?” “You won’t get that for me? Well, I’ll just ask Santa.” Santa was destroying their sense of compassion and charity and increasing their greed. And I was getting angrier and angrier with him.
And then, two years ago, laying in bed one night, I said to Davey, “I don’t want the children’s nicest gifts to be from Santa. They should be from us.” He balked, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I had no Santa tolerance left. That year, Santa brought them all a nice pair of slippers, along with a note about how he knew our home was drafty, and sometimes their feet got cold, but many children didn’t even have a home, and could they perhaps remember those children? They skipped right by the slippers and onto the other gifts.
The next year, there was still some Santa talk, and wish lists got written, but never mailed. Santa delivered little packages of stationary, so that they could write to long-distance friends and cousins. (This was Davey’s idea.) Many letters were written this past year, the younger ones especially using up all they had by summer. I keep cards and envelopes in my desk drawer now for their use. (Cousins, write back, please!)
This year, there has been no Santa talk at all. We still have a gift planned; this one is also Davey’s idea, and a little more expensive than years past, but totally within our new Santa parameters. Which are? The gift must be relatively small and it must apply to all the children, meaning it could be a whole-family type gift, or one easily duplicated for multiple children regardless of age. And it must not outshine the gifts given by parents, siblings, aunts or grandparents. You know, the real people.
My Santa rage is gone.
If I had it to do all over again, I like to think I would never introduce Santa at all, but I don’t think that would ever actually work out. Davey and I have drastically different mindsets on things like this. I think I’d be hard-pressed at any time to get him to give up Santa altogether, but we can both live with Santa like this. Also, in addition to curbing the kids’ gimme mentality, and no longer undermining our Christian call to love and assist those less fortunate, there is one other plus: we don’t appear to be counter-cultural freaks. At least on this. Maintaining Santa in some form drastically cuts down on the number of times you have to explain your parenting decisions to random strangers who frown upon anything less than absolute conformity. And if you’re anything like us, you spend enough time explaining yourself over real issues without having to add a fat guy in a red suit to the mix.
I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re happy that your children never thank you for their gifts because they think those gifts are from Santa, and you don’t have any issues with greed or uncharitableness or any other unpleasantness, then carry on. But if anything about Santa’s influence over your children bothers you, it can be changed. You are not stuck with Santa just because you started with him before you knew what you were getting into. You are a creative person! And there are always to make the world conform more to your parenting principles, no matter how divergent they seem to be.
Take what you have and do what you can to make it into what you want it to be. You’re absolutely allowed to do that.