I’m already feeling v. weird about the title of this post, given that my brother’s name is Nick.
But moving on…
Guys, I just don’t know how I feel about the whole Santa Claus narrative.
My toddler is 2.5 years old, and while he barely knows his a** from his elbow, he is latching onto the Santa story like I latch onto the Christmas turkey drumstick.
But unlike other societal narratives he’s picked up from
Paw Patrol books and playgroups, this one comes straight from us. It is, at this point in time, to an extent, in our control.
If we tell him that a jolly fat man comes down the chimney and leaves gifts if he’s been good, he will believe us. And if we skip that and tell him that we exchange gifts from one another as a gesture of love, he will believe us. At least for this year.
Okay, so what’s the harm in the Santa narrative? As I write this, I’m thinking, “Don’t be such a downer, just lean into the Santa scene, cause why not?”
Why not? I am not entirely sure, but I think my hesitancy centres around the fact that I do not like to tell lies. Do I think the Santa story is harmless? Probably. Do I love lying about it? Nope.
The other thing about lying is that I’m not good at it. In my wedding vows, I promised to never play poker for money because my tell is that I burst out laughing when I try to bluff.
Also, my toddler is too young to really understand. He gets it enough to be excited, but he is so earnest in his quest to truly understand, that it kind of breaks my heart to feed him the lies. And he can sniff out weakness, which causes him to deepen his line of inquiry. Like this:
Me: “Santa comes and, uh, *giggle* leaves presents. Right, that’s the deal? But only if you’re good.”
2 yo: “What is good?”
Me: “Oh, boy. Well, it’s good when you listen to mummy and daddy and daycare. And it’s good when you are kind to people in your daily life.”
2 yo: “What is life?”
Me: *sips wine and wonders if switching religions would be less stressful*
Don’t misinterpret – I love Christmas.
While not much of a church-goer during the past few years, I do believe(ish) that there was a person named Jesus who walked the Earth and taught some folks some helpful lessons on how to behave decently towards each other. I was not raised “in the church” (such a strange expression), and I’m no biblical scholar, or born again Christian, but I have read the Bible and I dig some of what JC had to say (and vehemently disagree with other things/the way in which some snippets have been used by various jackasses around the world, obvi).
I enjoy the OG story of Christmas (and any time Mariah Carey sings O Holy Night), and I also love the modern/commercial/family gathering side of Christmas. I love being cold and cozy and drinking with family. It’s the only time of year I’m not sweating through my clothes, and if that isn’t the true meaning of Christmas, then I guess I’ve had it wrong all these years.
Anyway, I’m pro-Christmas, pro-season of giving, pro-watching Home Alone, pro-carols (except “Last Christmas” by Wham, which is the soundtrack in hell), pro-shortbread, etc.
But Santa? I could take him or leave him.
I remember vividly where I was when the Santa bubble was burst for me.
[And here, please stop reading if you subscribe to the Santa narrative and wish to hear no other theories]
My brother and I were standing in our backyard, playing catch. I do not remember my exact age, but know I was less than 8 years old, because it was the backyard of our first house. The topic came up (how? it was summer… kids are weird), and he said, “Do you really want to know?”
I remember feeling like I was about to do a trust fall, or jump over the Springfield Gorge on my skateboard. I didn’t really want to find out, but I wanted to join him in the circle of knowledge on the other side of the gorge.
“Yeah,” I said.
“It’s our parents,” he said.
“Oh,” I said.
And that was it.
I wasn’t upset. I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel duped, just enlightened in a bit of a heavy way. I remember thinking, “How did I not figure that out?”
But I believed in Santa because they (parents, daycare, school, tv, etc) told me to.
And now here I am with two kids, deciding whether or not I want to perpetuate the Santa story.
The last two years were easy – the little guy did not know what was happening. He was like the protagonist in the psychological thriller Memento – living moment to moment without the ability to create short-term memories.
In fact, on the night of our baby’s first Christmas, my husband and I realized that we were Santa, and we’d bought nothing for him on Santa’s behalf.
Thank god for my mother-in-law, who filled the baby’s stocking to the brim and left me questioning exactly what kind of a monster I am to have failed at one of the basic tenets of parenthood.
I would call it a rookie move, but we didn’t improve much the following year (and again my MIL saved Christmas). And he was none the wiser. This is what family is for, right? Right…?
This year, my in-laws came to town to do an early Christmas with us. It was magical, and we all leaned on the Santa storyline to explain WTF was happening when the stockings filled up and presents appeared under the tree.
My toddler seemed low-key terrified at first at the idea of an intruder having entered our home while we slept. But we breezed by that. I felt weird lying, but I also did not want to add more confusion by changing the story.
I told you, me and Santa: it’s complicated.
I think I’m beginning to see a way to navigate my neurosis – my neurosis surrounding Santa, only, that is. Don’t worry, all of my other neuroses will continue to haunt me and my family.
I’m thinking we’ll go all Olivia Pope and spin the Santa story into a message of giving to others for the sake of giving. As per a viral FB post from a few years ago, I’m digging the plan wherein when our kid(s) figure out that we are Santa, we invite them into the fold and tell them that *anyone* can be a Santa, if you give to others without seeking recognition or reciprocation.
And we can plant those seeds now.
For example, every year, we take part in a food drive at our grocery store. It’s a “fill a bus” event, so there is food and buses and everyone wins.
A few weeks ago, I took my toddler. We said hello to the organizers, and took a copy of the list of most-requested items, and filled our cart. He was super excited to give “our friends” his own favourite foods, in addition to the sensible items on the list. And that is how our bag came to contain seedy dijon mustard and canned olives. But just because people are using a food bank, doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy strongly-flavoured food, right? I’m not very good at doing good deeds.
Anyway, we took the food out and deposited the bags into the waiting bus. Just like we did last year, when I had only one child and time to make cute collages like the one on the left.
This year was different from last year. For example, I had to wrench his icy death grip from the bus steering wheel when it was time to leave, because he wanted to stay there for the rest of his life. But also, this year, he had questions about the food and why we bought it and where it was going.
I tried (and almost certainly failed) to explain that some people do not have enough food to eat in their homes all the time, so we can help them by buying some food for them. This led to a ten minute session of every parent’s favourite game – “Why?”
Here’s a a fun excerpt that may also serve as birth control for those readers w/out kids:
Me: “…and so, we buy some food for our friends so they can have some extra food to eat.”
2 yo: “Why our friends have no food?”
Me: “Because they are having trouble with money.”
2 yo: “They in trouble? They go to time-out?”
Me: “No, they are having trouble. They don’t have enough money.”
2 yo: “Why our friends don’t have money.”
Me: “Well, you know how mommy and daddy go to work? Not everyone gets to go to work. And then they have less money.”
2 yo: “Why they have no work?”
Me: “Well, not all of our friends have skills that are in demand. Or sometimes there are not enough jobs.”
2 yo: “Why there are not enough jobs for our friends?”
Me: *considers dusting off the ol’ Macroeconomic textbook for bedtime stories*
Clearly, this was not easier to explain than Santa, but at least it is real.
It’s very possible that my issues with Santa have to do with me not wanting to give someone else credit for my own hard work. If this is the case, maybe I need to get into the real spirit of Christmas a little more and do another food drive or two, eh?
Maybe my issues with Santa include shades of my denial that we live in a police state. I am not in love with the idea of my kids thinking, even for just a few weeks of the year, that they are being watched. I mean, we are all probably being watched (cough, cough, Russia). But, do I want to insert that into the lore of the holidays? Not really.
It will creep in via osmosis and society and all the elves on other kids’ shelves, but I’m not into it enough to want to take action. I think my laziness is meshing with my actual preference on this one and I’m feeling good about riding that out, cause so rarely do the two meet.
I’m not going to burst his bubble, and it would be my worst nightmare to accidentally burst the bubble of someone else’s child. The best thing about Christmas traditions is that we can all make them our own.
And maybe there’s a new chapter of parenthood around the corner, during which I will fully embracing lying at any opportunity. But that doesn’t mean it feels good now.
For us, we’re feeling good so far about not doing a deep dive in the Santa pool this year. Hats aside, because hats.
We were at the mall a few weeks ago, and we walked by Santa’s village. I asked my toddler if he wanted to sit on Santa’s lap. He looked at me like, “da faq?” and said no. When we got a bit closer, he wanted to stop and watch. I asked if I could take his picture with Santa behind him, and he said yes.
This year, our Christmas present to our toddler is a train set (shout out to my BFF’s, the good folks at Costco for this well-priced and quickly-delivered treasure). We gave it to him during our early Christmas because we will be away for actual Christmas, and the train set is about as portable as a pile of bricks.
Before giving it to him, we debated whom it should be from – us, or Santa?
It felt like we were making a little statement either way (to ourselves). Did we want to embrace the Santa story? Or did we want to pump the breaks a bit and focus on the notion that gifts come from actual people who have directed thought and resources towards him? Magic at the hands of Santa? Or credit where credit is f*cking due?
I do not think that the myth of Santa prevents kids from feeling and expressing gratitude. Not necessarily. But wanting or having to thank Santa strikes me as too intangible – a bridge too far for a toddler. And kind of bizarre for an adult to watch. Cute, but weird (to me).
In the end, after spending three godforsaken hours assembling the train set, we told our boy it was from us. And he loved it.
Did he love it more because it was from us? No.
Did I love giving it to him more because it was from us? Unsure. I want to say no.
But I did like not having to devote any energy into some bullsh*t spiel about how Santa fit that massive thing down our obviously sealed-up chimney. Cause my littlest baby doesn’t always sleep through the night, and we had family visiting, and if I had any extra energy, I wasn’t going to spend it on that kind of elaborate story telling at 7:30am.
About a week after early Christmas ended, I was squatting on the floor next to my toddler, playing trains and just basically living my best life.
He turned to me and said, “Thank you for the train set, Mommy.”
The unexpected moment of sweetness caused me to choke back ugly cries as he continued cheerfully describing how all of the trains are heading from our house to Paris (deeply flawed logic, but cute AF).
And I thought, if he’s enjoying the magic of Santa, while also feeling and expressing actual, spontaneous gratitude, then maybe, at least for this year, we’re in a happy place – squatting on the floor, in the best of both worlds.
Images: All of the good photos are by Anne-Marie Bouchard, who spent a morning with us to capture our early Christmas and ended up capturing my small grinchy heart.