It’s that time of year again! The time when Team Santa and Team No Santa butt heads in the parenting arena known as social media.
Since it’s way less controversial than writing about why I vaccinate my children, I decided I’d write about why I am full-on, 100% TEAM SANTA.
Let me preface this with the fact that I am also 100% TEAM CHOICE when it comes to the Santa tradition. Would I be seriously bummed if a kid or a grown up walked up to Cub and told him Santa didn’t exist? Yes, most definitely. But it’s kind of a rite of passage, and it’s going to happen sooner or later. I just hope it’s on the later side.
I know that a lot of parents on Team No Santa skip the whole Santa routine because they don’t want to lie to their children. That’s fair: we tell our children that lying is bad, so it’s rather hypocritical if we are caught lying ourselves. That said, I would like to meet the parent who has 100% avoided telling one single untruth to their progeny. I really, truly want to tell them they are the least lazy parent of all time. Lying helps me cut a lot of corners! (For example: “The iPad’s battery is dead! Chuck the Truck isn’t on Netflix any more! I can see your muscles when you eat that bean!”)
But there are big lies and there are small lies, let’s face it. And I am very much Team No Big Lies. I will not lie to my children about death, about sex, about horrific world events. I hope the big questions are not asked too early, and I’ll adapt the truths to suit their developmental stage, but babies don’t come from a stork and and the Fox’s mom was shot by a hunter (thanks, Disney!).
So some might say that telling your child that a jolly, red-suited man who lives in the North Pole comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve with a sack of presents would constitute a pretty big lie. (Idem for the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy)
I think it’s important to make the distinction between lying and playing make believe.
At 3 years old, my son’s imagination is fruitful and fun, and if we are going to classify lying to our children as telling them anything that isn’t true, then I lie to him one heck of a lot, because he asks a lot of questions whose answers have to be lies unless I want to crush his spirit.
“Mom, what is that car saying to Umi Car?” (Umi Car is what he calls our car.)
Do I tell him that cars don’t talk? Nope! I make up a greeting from one car to the next. (It would be way easier if I told him cars don’t talk, because he makes me create a dialogue between every. single. car. we. pass.)
“Mom, what are my cat and dog doing?”
Do I tell him he doesn’t have a cat or a dog? Nope! I tell him what his invisible pets are having for breakfast. (And usually I have to actually serve it to them.)
“Mom? Where’s the emergency?”
Do I tell him there is absolutely no need for him to put on his invisible fireman suit and fight a fire? Nope! I tell him there’s a cat stuck up in an (invisible) tree and we have to save her. (And we save her, and give her treats, and pet her and then get back in the fire truck.)
To me, the story of Santa Claus is just an extension of the imaginary world we help our children create until they no longer believe in magic. It’s a game of pretend in which the wider western world (gleefully) plays a part. There is joy brought to adults by believing in Santa, and helping children continue to believe.
I have very clear memories of when I began to doubt the Santa story. But I also have very clear memories of the sense of joy and wonder I had imagining flying reindeer and elves in a toy shop. And I also clearly remember that I loved continuing to pretend for my brother and for my younger cousins. I think even then I understood that telling the story of Santa to children was different than telling them lies. And for all the disappointment finding out that Santa was just a story brought me, the absolute delight and joy I remember from the years I did believe made it all worth it.
An Argument for Santa as a Vehicle to Promote Creativity
Let me put on my Bachelor of Education hat for a moment and delve a bit deeper into why I see value in helping our children pretend that Santa is real.
As grown ups, I think we are planting the seed for a child’s imagination to grow when we talk about Santa. If I look back to my own thought processes about the Santa Claus story, I see a lot of important learning going on.
One of my biggest strengths in any of my professional endeavors has been my capacity for creative thought and problem solving. Let me tell you that it is impossible to explicitly TEACH creativity, and pretty tricky to teach problem solving. But a lack of creativity and a lack of problem solving instincts are the primary complaints of my teaching colleagues.
My parents’ retelling of the Santa story and their “complicity” in the Santa conspiracy (filling our stockings once we were asleep, using a separate wrapping paper for presents “from Santa”) helped foster both my own creativity and my capacity for critical thinking. For one thing, many of the things I believed about Santa came out of my own imagination. For example, I found it a bit puzzling that Santa could be in so many malls at the same time over the Christmas season. I remember that my solution to this enigma was that all the mall Santas and parade Santas were actually just Santa’s helpers, doing the dirty work for the real big cheese. And when the time to start doubting the Santa story came, I remember leading my neighbourhood friends in some detective work. Was Santa’s writing universal under our Christmas trees, or did it look like our parents’ writing? I remember putting forth a variety of rather convincing arguments to my non-believing friends, early practice at supporting a thesis statement (a skill that got me mighty far in university).
And once the truest of truths came out, when I asked my Mom around age 7 if Santa was real, I got to grapple with my first moral dilemma. To tell my brother or not?
Imagination is a powerful tool, a scientifically proven to be powerful tool. I see value in pretending Jolly Old Saint Nick brings toys to little girls and boys. I see the Santa story as a major influence on the imaginary world of my childhood, something that led me to be able to write a review about a reusable poop catcher that is both entertaining and informative.
(Update 12/23/2015…. Just stumbled upon an article from Psychology Today that reiterates my arguments above. This makes me feel super smart.)
As a footnote, I thought I’d mention two actual, legitimate lies that my Dad told me that still have an impact on me as an adult:
1- The centre of Oreo cookies is goat fat.
(I cannot consume Oreos without a pang of guilt and disgust. Probably a good thing.)
2- If you swallow a fish bone you will turn into a fish.
(I have a really strong gag reflex for fish bones in my mouth. Also probably a good thing.)
What about you? Why do you or don’t you tell your children Santa Claus is real?