The Santa Effect

Growing up, I was taught to believe in Santa.  For several years, I enjoyed the merriment of Christmas solely due to Santa, despite coming from a religious household.  Yeah, I know it’s Christ’s birthday, but he’s not the one coming down the chimney, is he?  The God factor was an afterthought, as it is to pretty much any Santa-believing kid in the world.  Which is crazy, because teaching your kid to believe in Santa is a lot like teaching them to believe in God.  Both are omniscient figures.  Both weigh you by wrong and right, naughty and nice.  Both live at the top of the world, and have all sorts of magic powers.  The belief is the strong piece, though.  The fervor with which a child can believe in Santa, even sometimes after being told flat out that he does not exist, is intense.

I was told by my friends’ mother.  They were very religious, and this factored into it.  Her daughters had been told there was no Santa that year, after they had joined a much more conservative church than the Catholic one they attended previously.  This woman took it upon herself to do what was my parents’ job and ruin my Christmas.  I am sure that she felt no qualms about it.  She very plainly told me that Santa was not real and that my parents were lying to me.  On another occasion her husband told me Catholics weren’t really Christians, but by that point I had written them both off as looney tunes, and that’s about the time I stopped hanging out with their daughter.  She was cool.  Her parents were not.  Even at the age of ten I knew willful ignorance when I saw it.

When I got home, I wanted to tell my parents but was suddenly struck by the fear that the presents would stop coming.  So, I smiled and played along for another year, until my mother sat me down when I was 11 and told me this had gone on long enough.  When I was assured I would still receive Christmas presents, I told her I already knew, that Mrs. Stickinthemud had told me.  She was FURIOUS, and I found some sort of vindication in that.  Her anger somehow dissolved my disappointment.

I had two Santa-free Christmases, and then Bernie was born.  They say that experiencing it as a parent is just as magical and it totally is.  I did all the Christmasy things I loved with her, and played Santa with my parents, staying up late to put together dollhouses and taking bites out of the cookies she left.  It was fun.  Until the night we told her the truth and she cried.  (Though to be fair, and this is a peculiar thing about my sister, she was more upset when she realized the tooth fairy was a lie.)

None of the kiddos really believe in Santa anymore.  M claims to, even though he is the oldest and has been told the truth.  I think that he still wants to hold onto that bit of childhood, though.  L and E seem to be fine with reality, but K, the youngest, has been mourning the loss of Santa for several years.  Two years ago, she told me she didn’t think he was real.  Last year, she said someone at school told her that her Mom buys the presents, and she, too, was concerned that the gifts would stop coming if she stopped believing.  I told her that wasn’t true, and that being a Santa for other people is fun, and she liked that idea.  This year Mark mentioned something offhand about there being no Santa and she got mad as hell, as if she had forgotten.  Or maybe hearing it from her father’s mouth made it extra real?

People are very particular about Santa.  I have always been wary of the experience.  There are some things I don’t like.  For instance, take Kid A and Kid B.  Kid A gets a toy from Santa that came off a shelf at Family Dollar.  Kid B, whose parents are much better off, gets an iPad.  Kid A then believes he was naughtier than Kid B, because he did not get as nice a present, never knowing the hard work on his parents’ part that went into getting his toy.

If you want to give your kid an iPad, give your kid an iPad, but don’t look your kid in the face and tell him that an elf made it.  That’s a gift from a parent, not Santa.

Our neighbor told us what he does with his kids, and I think it’s brilliant.  He has described Santa as the middleman in the deal.  He tells them that he pays Santa for the supplies for the presents that Santa then makes and delivers.  Therefore, his children are accountable to HIM for their behavior, not some elf on a shelf.  If they act up, that’s less money going to Santa.  Also, this is teaching them the value of a dollar, which children straight-up do not know.  I don’t think one of the kiddos asked me for anything for Christmas that I could afford.  Everything they want is at least 40 bucks a pop, and when I say that’s a lot of money, they look at me like I’m a pauper.  Now, I will admit that our financial situation is not as good as their mothers, so perhaps they’ve become accustomed to a certain standard of living.  However, we have, on more than one occasion, explained how rent and bills and paychecks work.  Still, children tend to believe that you have a magic money tree out back that blooms at Christmastime.  Sorry kid…I’ve been planting quarters, but nothing’s growing.

Overall, I am glad to be done with Santa.  I liked it while it lasted, as both a child and an adult, but I see too many holes in it now to really enjoy it.  Santa is the symbol of commercialism at Christmas, and I really hate that.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those “Jesus is the reason for the season” folks, either.  (PS the Winter Solstice is the reason for the season, there is literally no evidence Jesus was born on December 25th.)  I just think we need to focus a little more on the family and friends’ bit and a little less on the purchasing bit.  I have a friend who often bails on our Christmas get-together because he can’t afford presents.  I have told him time and again, me neither bro, just come have a drink!  That is what I want during my holiday season, to see my friends and family, and to send love to the people I care about.  I don’t need your presents, just your presence.

Merry Christmas.

man in santa claus costume
Photo by bruce mars on