Santa Claus Is Coming to Town … But He Ain’t Welcome Here

Monday, December 6, 2010

I never believed in Santa Claus. I never got the chance. You see, I have an older brother and sister.

With older siblings, those types of fictions don’t settle in. Easter Bunny. Tooth Fairy. Even ol’ St. Nick and his most famous reindeer of all — no match for big brothers and sisters.

Santa isn’t real, you know. That’s how the bubble is commonly popped.

Actually, as I think back on it, I don’t think my older sister or brother ever believed in Santa Claus to begin with. It was always known that Christmas gifts came from our parents. Moreover, my brother usually knew where said presents were hidden and had no qualms about poking holes in wrapped parcels and tightly tied bags. He would then tell you what you were getting — whether you wanted to know or not. (Now this, this I had a problem with. You’re ruining the surprise, man!)

Santa Claus was never really issue. Until now.

Photo from Rankin/Bass’ “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”

My son is not yet 2. He’s still a tad young to fully grasp the whole Christmas deal. Oh, he enjoys the tree. That’s certain. In fact, he tried to embrace the prickly thing when we first brought it home on the weekend. But the rest of it — the music, the gifts, the food, the traditions — hasn’t registered yet.

While decorating the tree, my husband and I started talking about the roly poly man in red. The idea of, but more, belief in him. My husband’s stance is this: Don’t lie to your kids.  When you tell them that Santa Claus is real, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

“You don’t have to lie to them to have fun at Christmas,” he said.

That’s how it went down in his house. He and his siblings were in on the make-believe of it. The fun of it. They would leave milk and cookies out on Christmas Eve night … but knew exactly who enjoyed those sprinkled sugar treats after they went to their beds. Zanta (the name my father-in-law goes by at Christmas).

Zanta was quite serious with his gig, too. I’ve heard the stories of how he often climbed the roof Christmas morning and stomped around, much to the delight of his three kids inside. And then, of course, they would collectively roll their eyes. “Go tell Dad to get down already,” they’d beg their mother.

Like I said, I’ve never given much thought to Santa Claus, and certainly not in the way my husband framed it. He feels, and quite strongly, that when you lie to your kids about Santa at some point they will find out the truth.

“And then what are you going to say to them?” he said, a serious look spilling across his face. “Maybe they’ll laugh it off. But maybe not. Maybe they’ll feel a little betrayed and start to wonder if you’ve lied to them about other things.”

“Come on, hon,” I said, waiting for him to crack a smile. “It’s not that deep. I doubt anyone goes into therapy after finding out about Santa.”

He agreed. The Santa myth isn’t something that will mess your kids up for life. And, yes, he also conceded that they’ll eventually get over finding out that those letters to the North Pole are really in a keepsake box in the attic. (Or more likely File 13.)

We also chuckled about the extent to which some parents go to keep the lie alive. How do they explain the fact that Santa Claus is at all three malls anyway?

Then he said something that put our talk into finer focus: “It really is about the lie. Ultimately, it comes down to what kind of relationship you want to have with your kids.”

I paused before adding another candy cane to the branch and let that last line sink in. Although my husband and I came at Kris Kringle from very different directions, we definitely meet in the middle about the life we want to build for our son. The kind of parents we hope to be. And lying is not part of the program.

Guess we already know who’ll be stomping on the roof a few Christmases from now.

  • 1
    41 going on 29 says:

    Well, today is St. Nicholas Day (12/6), and my kids (2, almost 4) woke up to stockings that had a cute winter hat and a book from St. Nicholas. I grew up with it, and it’s a tradition I want to continue with them. They’ll also be getting a visit from the Montclair PBA’s Santa. It’s a lie. But I lie to my kids all the time.

    When they are screeching about wanting another cookie, I tell them they are all gone. When they are pulling on my shirt and whining about wanting another Little Bill or Angelina, I tell them Little Bill and Angelina are napping.

    And when my kid won’t eat his veggies, we sometimes tell him we’ll need to call the mayor, who wants all the kids in Montclair to be healthy and strong.

    Lies. Lies. Lies.

    I guess I’m lucky your husband doesn’t have a direct line to Santa, so he won’t tell on me!

    • 1.1

      The mayor of Montclair. Now that is funny… and creative.
      Like I said, I never gave Santa much thought. And my husband and I debated this whole “it’s the lie of it” thing. I still don’t think it’s that deep. But I respect him and where he’s coming from enough that I remain flexible.

  • 2
    Tracey says:

    This was too funny!

    So true about older kids destroying the myth. We took our 4 & 6yo to Breakfast with Santa on Saturday. Unfortunately, a girl who was about 8 sat at our table. Though she didn’t say that there is no Santa, she said “That Santa isn’t real!” several times. I feared for what was next and nearly said something to her father.
    I wasn’t ready for my kids to learn the truth – and certainly not like that.

    So, yes, the lie is going strong at our house. Ho Ho Ho! :)

    • 2.1

      Thanks for the comment and story, Tracey. Yeah, I remember other kids in school taking such pleasure in busting the myth for the younger ones. I also remember seeing far too many cheap Santas–I’m talking plastic suit AND plastic beard–at parties to keep any mystery/fairytale alive.

  • 3
    Susanne says:

    I agree with your husband. But, just to warn you, as your son gets older, be prepared to take a lot of crap from other parents (and maybe even your family members, depending on their inclinations) for not LYING to your kids about Santa. Certain people don’t like it one bit that my daughter has always known the truth. Now I have to coach her to lie to her cousins, explaining that, “If you tell them the truth about Santa Claus, Aunt Margie will be angry with you for ‘ruining it’ for her kids.” Can you imagine? People will be angry with me and my kid if we don’t back up their LIE. I think the whole thing is rather backwards.

    I think on a deeper level, it comes from a place of fear of the unknown. The people that tend to populate my life are very attached to “how things are.” And my doing things differently threatens their sense of security. Anyway, good for you for being open-minded to your husband’s thoughts on the subject.

    • 3.1
      Jenn says:

      Couldn’t disagree with you more. It’s not about the truth, it’s about believing. It’s about faith, and learning how to generate love from the inside out by simply believing in something magical, in good will and love. I believe in my heart that it generates good energy and increases happiness to believe in something magical as a child.

      It’s not much different from believing in the magical man that came and washed away all the sins 2010 years ago, right?

      I also have my daughters convinced that fairies are real. It’s wonderful, the happiness and positive energy that it generates within their heart. In time, I’ll help them to convert this faith into and understanding that it isn’t about WHAT you believe, but THAT you believe.

      Teach your kid to believe, before it’s too late.

  • 4
    Jenn says:

    I know a boy who’s mom insisted that he never be lied to about the “Truth” about Santa Claus. When the kid was in 2nd or 3rd grade (I forget now), he came home from school one day going on and on about Santa Claus and the presents and everything. His mom said sternly, “Now son, you know Santa isn’t real, we’ve talked about this…” to which her son replied, “Geez, Mom! Yes, already! Yes, I know he isn’t real! Can I PLEASE JUST PRETEND so I can enjoy the holidays like all the other kids!?!?”

    I never would’ve forgiven my parents if they HADN’T lied to me and let me believe in the magic of Santa. I have two little preschool daughters, and I hope they stay convinced for many years.

    • 4.1
      Maureen says:

      I personally will try to keep my children, just 4 1/2, 3 and 15 months believing in Santa for as long as I can. We know that Christmas is about way more than Santa, so he is only a part of our celebration but he is the part that makes it MAGICAL! Waking up Christmas morning knowing your parents went to the store to by you gifts might be fun, but it is soooo much more so when there is more mystery attached. I do NOT consider it lying. It is building a mystery. : ) And children WANT to believe so even though they wonder whether the 8 year old that told them Santa isn’t real, they still question it for a little while anyway. Oh, and if your little one, as they get older asks why Santa is in all the malls and so many places, the “real” Santa can still exist. Tell them that that is not the real Santa…just Santa’s helpers. Merry Xmas to all!

  • 5
    Monica says:

    I can TOTALLY relate to this post! My husband feels exactly the same way that your does. He doesn’t want to lie to the kids – and, in fact, doesn’t – because he wants their relationship to be close, built on trust.
    This is such a sticky subject for me, because I grew up with the whole Santa story. And I later figured it out on my own. But I have two kids, ages 6 and 4. The six year old figured it out last year during Kindergarten. She is homeschooled, so it wasn’t such a big deal. But my son, who is 4, attends a local preschool. I don’t know if my husband has told him that Santa isn’t real, or if my daughter did (though she was under strict orders not to), but somehow that idea got into his head and while at school, he stated to all the other children that Santa wasn’t real. Needless to say, the teacher was VERY upset about the whole thing – and I don’t really blame her. But I also determined that while my son may have said that, he still doesn’t quite understand, so I don’t really think he believes it. Still, it is a very sticky road, since I certainly don’t want to be the target of resentment from all the other parents! I can understand where both sides are coming from, and while I think believing in Santa is a special tradition that all children should enjoy, it’s true that once they flat out ask you whether or not he is real, our answers should be honest.
    Yowsers. Thanks for sharing this!

    • 5.1
      Jenn says:

      My four year old once asked me if the Easter Bunny is real. I said, “Honey, he’s as real as Santa Claus.”

      I didn’t lie, and she didn’t have her childhood magic ruined.

      • 5.1.1

        Wise move. Wise, indeed. See? That’s why I often say M is for magical, and mothers.

        Thanks for all the comments, Jenn. I see your side of it–about keeping wonder and magic and mystery alive. But I wonder–in these times of very “informed” kids and overflowing cynicism–how easy/not easy it is to keep the Santa secret going. So many kids want to feel too cool for school at such a young age and want to distance themselves from “baby” things like believing in Santa and the Tooth Fairy, you know? Some parents must have to work hard to make sure the veil isn’t completely ripped off.

    • 5.2

      Hi, Monica. Yeah, it’s a odd spot to be in. As I said in an early comment-reply, I don’t take the Santa thing that seriously. When my husband shared his stance with me (way before we even thought about starting a family), I laughed. For real. Like laughed hard. It’s one of those “each kid/family is different” kind of deals, in my opinion. My only plan is to roll with things and stay limber. You never know when you’re going to have to reverse your position on something. :-)

  • 6
    Liz says:

    I enjoyed reading this. My husband and I are of the same stance: we’re not lying to our son about something so ridiculous. We actually celebrate the beginning of winter. Sure, we celebrate christmas with each set of grandparents, but in our own house, it’s just winter we celebrate. Our tree is a winter tree.and we keep it up all season long to add fun and magic to the coldest part of the year. We open presents on the first day of winter to make the cold and snow more enjoyable. It’s wonderful, and our son loves it. His school mates tell him that santa is real, and he just says “okay” because we’ve explained that other kids believe in santa and that’s okay. He knows the truth, just as I did when I grew up. His hardworking parents, family members, and friends save and spend money on him, to give him things he’d like to have, because we love him and he’s been a good kid. Not some magical fat man in a red suit.

    • 6.1

      Love that you have created your own traditions for your family, Liz. I know a mother who celebrates Christmas, Winter Solstice and Hanukkah in their home. If they add Kwanzaa to the mix, they’d have a month-long party going on. More food, more fun!

      Thanks for reading and for leaving a comment.

  • 7
    Mon says:

    My big question is, when it stop being Christmas real? winter is a season celebrating Christmas has to do with religion and believing in Christ. ST. Nicholas was real, he used to made toys for poor children to give in Christmas, Santa Claus in red and with boots is a creation of coca cola, another decoration like lights and the snow man, etc a cute and fun story and character that brings magic like the other stories. In my country it was “baby Jesus” who wanted to all children of the world to have toys and be happy in the celebration of his birthday and wanted families to be together that day, here is all about presents and spending money in the mall, there is no Christmas without material things that is so sad…

  • 8
    Nailah says:

    This is a great post! I didn’t ever really believe in Santa Claus but I still took part in the fun of it. I think there are plenty of ways of to enjoy the holidays without having to “lie” to your little one. Thanks for sharing!

  • 9
    Yvette says:

    Great post, growing up until 8 in Barbados, I wanted to believe but could figure out how Santa would get into our house since we didn’t have a chimney!

    • 9.1

      Ha! Good point. Thanks for the comment, Big Sister! Not sure I’ll say thanks for killing the Santa dream for me, though. :-)

    • 9.2
      Kiana says:

      This made me laugh. I think it’s fun to pretend. I’m not sure how I found out Santa wasn’t real but I know for sure it wasn’t devastating. Have you guys thought about what you’re going to do when he loses his first tooth? I always knew that there wasn’t someone magical flying in my room at night, but I’d be damned if my parents didn’t leave me a dollar under my pillow!

      • 9.2.1

        Pretending is definitely fun. Just ask all my Barbies, my Michael Jackson posters (he was my boyfriend for years) and all of the books I read. Imagination and Creativity were my bestest friends in the world. As for the Tooth Fairy… a dollar? For real? I’m sure that means the going rate is waaaay up there now. :-)

        Thanks for reading the post, Kiana!

  • 10
    Susanne says:

    I agree with you completely that kids need to believe in the magic of life. I just think it should be magic that is real, not some corporate fat man breaking and entering to leave presents.

    My daughter enjoys the Christmas season as much as the next kid. She pretends there is a Santa Claus, and I certainly don’t spoil her fun. But she also “believes” in the Law of Attraction–real magic–and uses it to attract what she wants into her life.

    I meet people all the time who lie to their kids about Santa Claus, and at the same time don’t understand, believe in or teach the Law of Attraction; so when their kids do figure out the lie, they have NO belief whatsoever in any kind of magic.

  • 11
    Kelly says:

    I think this concern of lying to our kids is going too far. I imagine a few of us were disturbed by our parents acting as if Santa (and all the other mythical beings) were real, but did it destroy our relationships? If it did, I’m guessing there were omissions and behavior that undermined the relationship otherwise. Yes, we are raising our kids in an increasingly cynical and negative world. Hence the politically correct notions of princesses being strong women instead of damsels in distress. But, as I think about it, I’ve grown into a strong, confident, articulate woman who has decent relationships with her parents. I grew up with the mystery of Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Cinderella, Snow White and the rest. It’s the CONTEXT in which these stories are told that builds character, hope, purpose, kindness and the all that we hope for in our kids. As another fictional character said, “You can’t handle the truth.” Our kids deserve to have some truth reserved for when they are older. Some of this truth-telling is the reason our kids are so literal today that they cannot dream of new and richer possibilities – for themselves, others and the world we live in.

    • 11.1

      I agree with you, Kelly. Hence the debate with my husband.

      I still think (pardon my repeating myself) that the Santa story is not a big deal. So what if 4-year-old Sally believes? It’s fun, and in no way is that the mark of “bad” parenting. You said the key word: context. It’s all about the context in which the tales are told. If my son comes home from pre-school in a few years and says he’s getting ready to write a letter to Santa, I’ll probably smile (and think, “Yesss. He’s a write-ah just like his Mama. Ha!). Of course, I would also include the context and history to flesh out the Santa story for him, too.

      Thanks for checking out the post and leaving a great comment.

  • 12
    Ellie says:

    In our family Santa is the spirit of the season. Sure he is illustrated as a fat man in a red suit and so far this is what my kids believe (one will be 11 soon and she still believes in Santa) and when they come to me and say there isn’t really a Santa, that they know I bought all the gifts I will explain to them that *I* am Santa and their daddy is Santa and they themselves carry the spirit of the season in them. That’s not a lie, there is a magic to the giving of gifts and I am sure my children will delight in being in on the game. In fact I can’t wait for my oldest child to tiptoe around with me, putting out the gifts for her younger siblings, straightening the tag that says ‘From Santa’.

  • 13
    Susanne says:

    Well I guess it’s not surprising that people who are willing to lie to the people who trust them most in the world would be willing to lie to themselves–about how wrong it might be to lie to the people who trust them most in the world.

    And yet when the children begin to lie (as children tend to do as part of their neural development) it’s considered a punishable offense.

  • 14
    Jessica says:

    Christmas is not about ANY of this stuff! It’s about Jesus- period. However, letting my kids believe in something fun and magical is SO exciting! They will be two in January so they don’t really know what’s going on but next year… oh I just can’t wait!!! My husband is not a fan of the jolly fat man but I am and I want my kids to have the fun and wonderment that I did as a child. What’s wrong with letting the kiddos do what they do best… believe, imagine, wonder? At some point your kid is likely going to have an imaginary friend. Will you tell him or her that friend is not real? Then that too is a lie. See, reality is much more than what you or I see, but the truth often lies in what one perceives as the truth. I cannot physically see my Lord but I believe in him. I cannot see wind but it exists. To little old lady that I helped out of a wheelchair and into another seat becasue she was “sitting on her husband”… he was very real. Who are we to not let others believe in things they want to?