Meggan, her brother and scary Santa
I was terrified of Santa as a kid. When I was 20 months old, mum took us to the country club to see him. I was so afraid. Instead of sitting on his lap I hung on tightly to mum and cried. There was no way I was going to leave her arms for his. At 2 and a half years I managed to sit on Santa’s lap in a shopping mall, but not without feeling really unsure and not very safe. You can see from the picture how tightly I held onto my brother’s wrist. One month later, back at the country club again, I cried and screamed on Santa’s lap.
As long as Santa wasn’t physically present I thought he was great. I loved believing in him. It was fun. I can remember waking up on Christmas Day, excitedly running down the passage to check if he’d finished the beer and cookies we’d left. Half a beer and crumbs on the table was evidence enough for me! Seeing all the presents under the tree was magical and exciting.
Unfortunately the day came when Santa’s sleigh ground to a halt. I was 6 years old. My parents decided that in order to prepare me for boarding school I ought to know there’s no Santa, no Easter Bunny and no Tooth Fairy. They thought it was best they tell us, rather than the kids. As it turned out, none of the other kids knew. So there I was, for the next few years, keeping the secret from all my friends.
Now that I have a toddler, I’ve been giving some thought to what I’m going to tell Joshi about Santa. There are a few things I’m not mad on about the conventional story around Santa, so I was pleased to come across some new ideas recently in a book called ‘The Santa Story’ by Arita Traham (affiliate link).
What I Don’t Prefer About The Conventional Santa Story?
You have to be good to get presents: The way kids have to conform to their parent’s idea of ‘good’ in order to get pressies from Santa really doesn’t appeal to me. I was listening carefully to the words of one of the most popular Christmas songs last week. Catchy tune, pretty ghastly words:
Santa Clause Is Coming To Town
You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He’s making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
So Santa only rewards those who suppress their tears and emotions. Not sleeping is considered naughty in Santa’s world and will also see you struck off his list. Christmas could become a really scary time for some kids if they take this stuff seriously!
There’s a whole lot of bribery going on : It’s rife around Xmas. We were down at the beach this morning when one mum said to her kid, “If you don’t come now you’re not getting any Christmas presents.” I know, parents say stuff like that coz it’s quick and easy. It’s a fast solution in the moment and in so far as getting the kid to move it worked. But is it really necessary to use fear and anxiety to make your child do something you want? What does this mum say to her kid for the other 11 months?
It’s all about getting: I can’t help but feel that we’re cultivating in our kids a mindset of “what can I get.” In the conventional Santa story kids only have one role to play – they write a letter (or rather, a shopping list) for Santa and then wait to receive their presents. Santa may as well be Amazon. com. If Santa can afford all the stuff on the list, your kid’s happy – but what if Santa can’t afford the pony? Does your kid then question whether they weren’t ‘good’ enough?
You have to keep lying to your kid: I’m wondering how it would be, lying to my kid about Santa. Would it be fun? Will it still be fun when he comes to me with all his questions about what he heard another kid say? Don’t get me wrong, I can see why parents are drawn to telling their kids Santa’s real. It must be really cute and beautiful to watch their delight as they sweetly and innocently believe in his existence. What parent wouldn’t be charmed by that? But in order to protect their innocence you then have to come up with good answers to endless questions, like “Why are there so many Santas out there?”, “Which is the real one?”, “Why didn’t Santa bring me what I asked for?” etc. How would I feel about being found out? Maybe this whole approach just makes it hard for us when it could be sweet, simple and uncomplicated.
It’s meant to be all fun and full of innocence, but can we really teach our kids not to lie if we do it ourselves? Kids learn more from our actions than our words. They imitate and copy us all the time. Yes, yes, I know – it’s all done with good intentions and for fun. No one means any harm, but it’s funny isn’t it – that the underlying message in the conventional Santa story is that “Hey kids, it’s ok to lie and make up elaborate stories, as long as it’s done with good intentions.”
One day you’ll probably be found out: Being ‘found out’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, right? Your kid could be totally cool with finding out that Santa doesn’t exist. Alternatively, he/she could be really disappointed in you for lying to them.
Look, I’m actually not against the conventional Santa story, and I’m not saying that lying to your kid about Santa is a surefire way of damaging their trust in you, but I do love the way Traham’s book introduces ways which allow your kid to still enjoy the fun of Santa without you having to make them believe he’s real.
A Slightly Different Santa Story
As Traham points out, your kids aren’t going to miss out on Santa as a fun experience if you don’t insist they believe he’s real. Kids are entirely capable of enjoying a story as a story. They do it all the time! – Shrek, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, etc. For a kid in their early years l ife’s already magical – fact, fiction and fantasy all occur as real.
Instead of spending years pretending, Traham suggests making Santa into a story or game. For example, you could tell them a story about this really generous, kind, fun man – Santa, who spends his time finding out what children like and then working with his elves to make it for them. At the end of the story, you could tell your kid that Santa’s a game which everyone can play differently. Anyone can play if they want to, even grown-ups. Whenever anyone starts talking about Santa that’s when the game is on. That’s when you and them step into the game. Everyone gets to choose the role they play. Some could play at being an elf making presents, others could play at being a reindeer, or Santa himself. Those who choose to play Santa get to be someone who laughs a lot, who’s full of joy, who loves planning random acts of kindness and who thrives on giving without expecting anything in return. Being on this end rather than on the receiving end cultivates the experience of joy through giving. How cool is that!
To kick things off, you could give your kids a few cards with “From Santa” written on them. Initially you might offer a few ideas – you could suggest they collect the newspaper for the old lady next door, put one of the tags on it and secretly deliver it right to her door. Your kids could decide what to do with the other cards. The game you’re basically choosing is that some gifts are wrapped in pretty gift-wrap while others are simply random acts of kindness. In this Santa story everyone who chooses to play the Santa game gives gifts, not just Santa.
I know you’re wondering how this will fit with your friend’s and neighbour’s kids who are still doing the conventional Santa thing, but children who play the Santa ‘game’ can play alongside kids who still believe in Santa without exposing the truth. The children who are playing ‘the game’ easily accept any other child’s way of being about Santa.
What I like about this approach is that it’s lots of fun and doesn’t need to culminate in dreary Christmases once Santa’s no longer part of it. I want to feel good about the story I’m passing on to my child. I don’t want to feel that Christmas is only fun as long as as I’m perpetuating the lie. By making it a game, my child gets to play it with me instead of me playing it for him. There’s no time limit either – you can play this Santa game for the rest of your life.
Of course, you can include as much of the traditional Santa story in your game as you like. If this year you want to have Santa coming down your chimney on Christmas eve and leaving presents, that’s up to you. Do it. Write it the way you want to. Make it up as you go. It’s there to have fun with.
Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas everyone.
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