Her Bad Mother

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Many Impossible Things


The other morning, I was idly scanning the newspaper while supervising Wonderbaby’s breaking of the fast (corn puffs and an orange and waffles spread with apple butter), when I happened upon this headline: Imagine there’s no Santa.

There’s a happy holiday headline, I thought. I read further. It was an op-ed piece by a woman with school-aged children, concerning her discomfort with the Santa myth and her decision to not let her own children be misled by that myth. I just can’t do it, she said. I just can’t shake the feeling that my sons need to be able to trust that all their parents ever told them was the truth. This, because the story of Santa is, of course, not true.

Of course.

If you were to ask me, casually, if I thought that the most familiar Santa stories – ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Rudolph, et. al. – were based on fact, I would say no, of course. I don’t believe that a fat man in a red suit runs a sweatshop, exploiting cheap elvin labour, at the North Pole. I don’t believe that he keeps a list of who’s naughty and nice, nor that he flies around the world Christmas Eve, dispensing gifts and small bits of coal according to the dictates of that list.

I don’t believe that reindeer really do know how to fly.

But neither do I believe that Santa stories are lies.

Plato wrote, a very long time ago, before there was a Christmas or a Santa or anything of the sort, that there is a very important difference between what he called lies of the soul and verbal lies, or lies in speech. A lie of the soul, he said, is a lie that misguides the soul, misdirects the soul away from truth. It’s a lie that causes the soul to become confused, and so, ultimately, unhappy. A verbal lie, on the other hand, might be as simple as a little white lie, told to avoid hurt, or it might be something more noble. A noble lie is a lie in the sense that it veils the truth, but it veils the truth in such a way as to make it comprehensible to those who are unable to grasp truth in its fullness. It orients the soul to truth, without revealing truth openly (the truth being like the sun – it can be blinding, and so we must, most of us, shield our eyes.)

When I teach the story of the noble lie (which appears in Plato’s Republic) to my undergraduate students, they usually respond, initially, with indignation. It’s a lie, they say. It is meant to deceive, and deception is bad. Yes, I say, deception is bad. But not all fiction is deceptive. I remind them of origin stories, the story of the Garden of Eden and of the Fall (which, forgive me, I do not regard as plainly factual); I remind them of fables and myths; I remind them of the stories that we tell children, stories that we use for the purposes of teaching.

Stories like that of Santa, which, I think, teaches something about generosity and goodness and the idea that all children deserve to be (even if they are not in fact) loved. That the best way to celebrate Christmas is to give gifts without the expectation of reciprocation, to quietly slip a little happiness into the stockings of others. (We could, of course, go darker with this story, and expand upon the ‘naughty and nice’ proviso, and say something about cold and coal-dark hearts being undeserving of gifts, but I am skeptical of the quote-unquote truth of this part of the story and so I will likely – because it does not accord with the quote-unquote truth that I wish to communicate to my children – delete it from the version of the story that I tell them. Such is the power of the parent, who as primary storyteller is both poet and philosopher-ruler.)

(I could, of course, say something here about religion and the original story of Christmas and the purposes that these stories serve and what it might mean to refer these stories as noble lies. But that is a much longer and more complicated post - and in any case it is a post that I have already attempted - and so you must just accept these concerns as subtext.)

But there’s more to this than the question of whether such stories are deceptive. The author of that article wrote that she taught her children that Santa is a character of fiction, no more real than Muppets and Pokemon. Which is fine, I think – except that when I think of my own childhood relationships to characters of fiction, what I remember most fondly is the wonderful uncertainty of those fictions. Grover might have been real (I still experience shudders of disappointment when I see pictures of Muppets lifeless in the hands of their puppet-handlers). So too Peter Pan, and Alice and the Cheshire Cat, and the Tooth Fairy. And Santa. Those characters, and so many others, were fascinating to me because they made demands upon my imagination – they lived only through my imagination, it was my imagination that sustained them, that made them walk and talk and breath. Had they solely been one-dimensional figures, words and pictures on a page, had I been certain that they were not real, they would have remained flat. Lifeless.

Their stories had force, for me, precisely because those stories occupied and energized that wonderful space between my heart and my mind where truth and story and fact and fiction are blurred, where the impossible and the not-quite-possible and the possible become deliciously tangled, where disbelief is always suspended. They lived - they live - and became real in the space of my imagination.

I will never try to convince my daughter that the Santa in the mall is the real Santa. I will never insist to her that there is, in fact, a real man in a red suit living at North Pole with a harem of elves. I will never try to make her believe. I will, however, tell her stories about Santa (of all varieties), and I will tell these in my most assured voice, with my most sparkling eye, with my most animated gestures. And if she asks me whether Santa is real… well, I suppose that I’ll be honest with her. I’ll say that real can mean many things; I’ll say that sometimes it’s enough to believe in something with all your heart to make that thing real in many of the ways that count (to love that thing, to derive hope or comfort or inspiration from that thing). I’ll say that while I can’t personally confirm that there is a Santa who lives at the North Pole (never having been there myself), that doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible that there is a Santa. I will say that it is, in any case, important to believe, sometimes, in impossible things. I will say, with the Queen of Hearts, that I myself have been known to believe in as many as six impossible things, all before breakfast.

All of which is to say that I will encourage her to reach her own conclusions, and that I will encourage her to be broad-minded in pursuing those conclusions, in pursuing understanding of seemingly impossible things. I will give her the opportunity to believe, to embrace the stories and let them live in her imagination. I will let her have her Santa, whatever that means, if she wants him.


Until it all gets too Sears Portrait Studio, at which point we'll have to kill Santa off.


(Audience participation! What do you tell your children about Santa?)


**********


Please go visit the Magi.

66 Comments:

Blogger Mom101 said...

I'm so so so with you! Nate and I had that debate when I was first pregnant - him telling me he didn't want to "lie to his kid," and me telling him in turn to lighten the hell up.

Your line about "the wonderful uncertainty of those fictions" puts into words exactly the point that I didn't articulate all that well. I don't think it's harmful to believe that there might be a wintry world through a secret door in your closet, there might be a tooth fairy, there might be a world where a girl from Kansas can be transported through a magic mirror if she wishes it at just the right time of day.

It's creativity. It's imagination. It's childhood.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Plain Jane Mom said...

Letting kids have magic in their life is SO IMPORTANT. Why do they have to be tiny adults, grim, serious, and sturdy? Fuck that.

My kids will go from believing in an actual person named Santa, to understanding and living the generous spirit that leads people to do things in the name of Santa.

7:07 PM  
Blogger MotherBumper said...

I loved it back when I believed in Saint Nick but didn't believe at the same time. I remember how it was like being in on a special secret that only certain people knew about. Jolly Saint Nick is about the giving without receiving, generosity and sharing. I'll tell Bumper if she asks directly but there is so much to learn from the believing that I'll wait as long as I can.

I love the photo, she looks so into the whole thing instead of melting down. Like Bumper would be doing regardless of my presence.

7:21 PM  
Anonymous K said...

I posted about this at The Mom Trap yesterday -- my MIL seems to think it's a good lesson to learn that Santa isn't real -- like we've been fooling you kid and that's just how life is.

I'm all about the magic of childhood. I'm not for perpetuating the crazy myths so that it gets all twisted and bizarre -- but there is something so wonderful and magical about Santa and all the other imaginative things that come with being a child.

Now religion -- that's a whole other story, right? :)

7:25 PM  
Blogger m said...

My son is too young to understand Christmas or Santa, but I hope that he will believe. I believed for a very long time, probably too long. (I am personally saddened to hear of kids who stop believing by the time they are six.) My parents did an amazing job making Christmas magical--our tree would appear Christmas Eve while we were eating dinner and Santa would put on a record to let us know it was safe for us to go into the living room.

I can still remember going out on Christmas Eve with my father, as was our tradition (while poor Mom put up the tree and decorated it all by herself!), and looking up into the sky and seeing Santa and his sleigh. I still believe I saw it. Yes, I know it was my childish imagination, but I saw it and it was magic. I hope to give my son that, a belief in magic and hope and love.

7:26 PM  
Anonymous Kristi said...

This hits home with me, girl. We walk a delicate line in my household. I'm a Christian and my husband is a former-Christian-now-atheist. So what he sees as myth I teach as fact (sorta) and he agrees to let me. So that the kids will have a solid foundation of faith and the message of Christianity before they determine if they believe it or not.

As far as Santa...what are we talking about here? There's Santa right there...you have a freakin' picture of the guy! What more evidence do you need?

7:35 PM  
Blogger Blog Antagonist said...

I'd like to just say "ditto" to what Plain Jane Mom said.

My 8 year old sort of kind of in a very roundabout and very casual way asked this year, and I lied through my teeth. I don't think he wanted the truth. I think he wanted permission to keep on believing. And that is a-okay with me.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Lady M said...

My sister and I technically still "believe in Santa," because when you don't, Santa doesn't fill your stocking! I don't remember how old we were when we knew and started playing along, but it's been fun for the whole family, and I hope to have that same lighthearted Santa belief for Q.

7:50 PM  
Blogger Oh, The Joys said...

I have to show this to my husband. He and Mom-101's husband were obviously separated at birth.

7:58 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

I think this is an awesome post and I'm completly with you and one day when my kids ask, I will tell them that magic and believing in Santa or Harry Potter or Mickey Mouse is some times a leap of faith and some times we have to believe in things we can't see and just know it's okay. I believe in things I can't see for sure...maybe not Santa anymore, but other things and there's nothing wrong in it.

Mom 101 said, "It's creativity. It's imagination. It's childhood." and I fully agree with that statement. To deny your child the oppertunity to believe in the magic of Santa or whatever as a child is sad to me, becuase how will they ever know to believe in things in their life that they can't see yet, like their dreams. Being practical all the time can have a price.

I do tell my girls things from time to time that may or may not be real. Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Hogwarts, Witches who fly on broomsticks, angels, Faries and that getting out of bed at night for no reason just to bug Mama during Grey's Anatomy means the toy troll will steal your Barbies. Nothing harmful in those, right?

8:04 PM  
Anonymous mothergoosemouse said...

Hear hear. That is why we hide Easter eggs, in addition to the whole Christmas she-bang. It's fun! Why cheat ourselves - kids and adults alike - out of fun?

I remember my parents lying to me. But not about Santa. I loved believing, and on many levels I still do.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

I will facilitate belief in Santa for as long as my kids want. I think that having an element of magic in their lives is important, and I don't see this as a lie that is harmful in any way.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Veronica Mitchell said...

I think this is only a serious question for those who grew up with a belief in Santa. My parents always told me he was fictional, and without a childhood belief of my own, I have never had any wish to pass the myth on to my children.

The much bigger problem I expect is the anger other parents may express if my little girl says "Santa is pretend" in front of their children. My mother certainly got a lot of crap when we did that. I understand they want to maintain the fiction, but I don't understand demanding that all other parents make the same choice, or blaming children for speaking factually.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

as per usual, i can't answer as a parent, but i can answer as a daughter. and i realize this may be an unpopular thing to say, but i wish my mom had never done the santa thing for us. because i still remember the horrendous trauma of having a schoolmate tell me there was no santa, going to my mom and asking for the truth, and finding out that no, santa wasn't real. i hated that feeling. and to this day, i'm not sure what i'll do with my own kids, 'cause i don't ever want them to feel that betrayal. yucky, yucky feeling.

i think your approach of telling stories and acknowledging that they may or may not have aspects of truth is a good way to avoid that, though, so i'm hoping it'll keep working well.

9:37 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Veronica - I agree, totally, that there shouldn't be pressure for *everyone* to subscribe to the 'belief' in Santa (or, for that matter, in God or Jesus or Mohammed or whom or whatever). Which is why I think that it's not only useful, but important to talk to children about the nature of belief and to frame story-telling about Santa et al in that context. That said, if my daughter decides early that she does *not* 'believe' in Santa, I'll probably ask her to respect the belief of any other child who does believe - it's not exactly the same thing, but just as I wouldn't want her chastising other children for believing in God, I wouldn't want her chastising them for not believing in Santa.

But it works both ways, as you suggest - she should be allowed to openly *not* believe as much as she should be allowed to believe.

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Jenn said...

Wow - this has been a very interesting discussion! Magpie is too young to get any of this yet, so we're safe for a while. But, we have been waffling about what to do. Our leaning is to either make Santa a Christmas mascot, but I'm not sure what will happen when the time comes.

(I was one of those who figured it out early - it always seemed an odd thing to me...)

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Lena said...

"Not all fiction is deceptive."

Well-put HBM.

That said, we're strictly fact based in the house.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Jade's mommy said...

Interesting! In my household to this day we sign all the presents “from Santa”.
Both my hubby and I will definitely introduce our little one to Santa and as she grows older and starts to understand, we’ll introduce her to the history or the myth of Santa just as we were introduced. It’s the magic of Christmas!!!

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Mitch McDad said...

Honestly, this whole Santa thing has been bugging me a bit. Granted, I do lean more toward bah-humbug than a merry elf, but that being said, part of me dreads the day my girls look at me and wonder why I propagated this massive ruse. Now, it is cool to watch them dig on Santa, but I may be too much of a Scrooge to fully get to that all-encompassing "Santa" place. Maybe I just need more eggnog.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Mad Hatter said...

"I'm Mr. White Christmas. I'm Mr. Snow. I'm Mr. Icicle. I'm Mr. Forty Below."

The Miser brothers are two of my favourite fictional characters of all time.

Santa. Love him. Always welcome in our house. I hope I can have him represent the spirit of giving and not the spirit of acquiring--so hard to do in this age of 30 second Santa spots for 2 months leading up to the event.

10:59 PM  
Blogger jen said...

those are some boots, sister...

we haven't figured it out yet, and are hedging our bets since M is only 2 and doesn't really care yet - i waffle (no butter) between the myth and the fairytale of it all...and the bottom line perhaps is life lacks enough dreams already, so why not allow all the ones we can.

12:01 AM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

I am on the rack about this. We didn't do Santa in my family, but Misterpie's family did/does. I've decided I'll play along because I'd hate to rob her of that rather nice bit of what everyone seems to remember as childhood magic, basically.

Oh, and about muppets - here's that muppet wiki I have been meaning to tell you about!

12:33 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

In our house, we believe in everything - fairies, ghosts, leprachauns... really, it is only the Easter Bunny we are suspicious of (we think he's a fake). Jake is convinced he saw the tooth fairy (gold wings and black high heels... it may have been a Victoria's Secret model) and this year, I finally got asked the all huge question Mom, is their Santa or do you and Dad just put the presents under the tree?

I asked what he hoped my answer would be and he replied, "Santa". So I told that this is the time of year for faith and believing in miracles and choosing the life you want to lead and the magic that you want to let into it... he smiled and said, "Im choosing Santa."

So, I dodged that bullet...

3:25 AM  
Blogger Joker The Lurcher said...

i decided when i was pregnant that i would never lie to my child, even "white lies". this was because of my own experiences as a child and i wouldn't expect everyone to be so hard line about it!

so i have always said to him "some people think santa is real" when he asks. my son is a very literal minded person so very early on was asking how it was possible to get round the whole world etc to which i would reply that it was based on a very old story that might have changed its shape quite a bit with being re-told.

the main thing i have wanted is to get him to understand that people have many different truths and that he should give space to the possibility of difference and not be too crushing when people have different beliefs to him (he has a rather blunt turn of phrase sometimes!). he takes great pleasure in grilling priests and vicars abut the existance of god at every opportunity which must be a bit disconcerting for them given he is only 12 but has a mind like a razor as far as this sort of thing goes!

4:13 AM  
Blogger toyfoto said...

I wrote about this very thing for my weekly column (to be published Christmas eve). I agree with you. Santa isn't a lie.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Janet a.k.a. "Wonder Mom" said...

I believe in Santa. Obviously I know he's not the kind that comes in through the chimney...I believe like you...I do know that history has him recorded in many stories and I believe that there once was a guy like him.

I tell SF that he's real. But she's 3 and is scared to death of him..So I may have to tell her he's a guy dressed in a red suit. Until then. That man in real.

8:26 AM  
Blogger mamalang said...

My son realized that the local santa was "just a person in the costume" this year (he's 4) and my 8 year old has asked. We talked about Santa representing the spirit of Christmas and the magic in believing. I can't imagine just telling her "no there isnt' a santa, we lied"...Then it would feel like lying.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Pattie said...

My kids believe in Santa. My best friend's children (who are the same age as mine) do not. She doesn't want to perpetuate what she feels are lies and I feel that a child's life should be filled with magic and wonder....they will grow up soon enough and have to deal with "reality"....why not let them have a little fantasy? That being said, we repect each other's opinion, and she has taught her children not to ruin it for those who do believe...so far, so good!

8:55 AM  
Blogger crazymumma said...

In our house Santa is real. But biggirl has entered her cynical phase and will be 'testing' santa this year. She wants a specific pokemon card in the deck of cards she has asked for and if it is not there....well....guess we'll have some explaining to do.

I preferred the picture of her screaming her head off with Santa, but you look lovely as well. (And does Santa still have the same frozen expression on his face or is it my imagination?)

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah said...

This has been bugging me. I really don't want to tell my children any lies, but I loved believing in Santa.

I like your idea. I'll just tell them the stories and let them decide for themselves.

I was going to do that with religion anyway.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Mama V said...

It's a tough choice, isn't it...
At our house, most of the gifts under the tree are from us, with a couple of gifts (the one or two that were asked for from Santa) from the big guy. My son is turning 8 in a couple of weeks, and he was asking about the legitimacy of Santa this year. He knows that the mall Santas aren't "real", but he believes that the "real" Santa could take the place of any of these mall Santas at his will, so you never know if it's the real one or not. When he asked me about Santa being "real" this year, I explained to him that if you believe in something strongly enough, it's "real" to you. I explained that Santa can be all different things. It can be anyone, at any time, doing something special or granting a wish for someone. It can be someone helping out someone in need when they least expect it. The most important thing about Santa is to remember that he does nice things for other people without asking for anything in return. So, if you believe that there are people out there who will do nice things for other people without wanting anything in return, then Santa exists. I told him that Santa is really the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of giving of yourself to others. He seemed to get it. He's a big fan of the "Santa Clause" movies, which makes a believer out of anyone. And if you think about it, the message in "Miracle on 34th St." says it all - if we can firmly stand behind our beliefs in God (or Allah - or any religious figurehead) even though we have no "real" proof of their existance, why can't we stand behind our belief in Santa?
Ho ho ho!

10:01 AM  
Blogger T. said...

You are so booted out of the Bad Holiday Mom's Club. Only mom's who would never pose with the Creepy mall santa are allowed to join! But Wonderbaby looks much happier!

My kids are at the age where they are starting to question the validity of their beliefs. It might stem from the fact that Santa's handwriting looks suspiciously like mine or just because some booger picking kid on the playground told them there was no such thing as Santa.

But as they grew up, I always told them Santa existed somewhere, some how, and it was up to them to figure out how. But then I am also the mom who tells them that dragon flies are public transportation for fairies and that the Easter bunny really is a rabbit who shits out eggs.

So, perhaps you should take my opinion with a grain of salt!

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Michele said...

My favorite Christmas memories are those of my parents completely hamming up the whole Santa thing. They did it full-on, with letters to and from, and late night rides on Christmas eve to look for the sleigh, and even a tape recorded message from him the year we got a tape recorder for Christmas. We loved all that and were not the slightest bit scarred by the "decption". The magic of it is what made it so wonderful. I want my kids to feel that. We are all for Santa in our house. The boys are too young (22 months) to understand but we are already completely playing up Santa and the whole deal and I plan on doing so until they call it off themselves. Then we will move on to encouraging them to "be" Santa for others.
And we will be doing the whole Jesus birthday thing too, complete with a birthday cake for the baby Jesus and tucking straw from the manger into your wallet for good luck.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Mayberry said...

I think deciding that we won't lie to our children is a pretty unreachable standard. I won't lie about important things. But I will tell white lies shamelessly. And I will foster a belief in Santa, because it's fun. (I don't, however, use Santa as a threat.)

11:17 AM  
Blogger Laural Dawn said...

My mom and dad made the decision not to have us believe in Santa because they felt that it took away the true meaning of Christmas.
I respect that - and where they came from. And they told us to never ever tell other children what we knew.
We never did.
But, now that they have grandchildren their opinion has changed.
I like Santa. I like his magic. I like that my son is so intrigued by him. I don't see the harm in it (I'm a little jealous that he will be thankful to Santa for the best gift in the world not me, but whatever!)
When he is older, and he asks, I will deal with it. But for now the excitement and the magic of it are worth it.
To be honest, I felt a little jipped by never believing. But, for some reason I had a very sincere belief in the tooth fairy - and polkaroo.
So my point is kids want to believe in some fairy tales. Let them.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Mitzi Green said...

my god, let's just take all the fun and mystery out of EVERYTHING in the interest of being PC. when i found out there was no fat man, i did not take to my bed for a week sobbing uncontrollably. i did not wonder how i could ever trust my deceptive parental units again after this unspeakable act. if memory serves (and it doesn't), i think i got over it pretty quick.

this woman needs an eggnog enema.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Kyla said...

We love Santa. I understand the stance of those non-Santa people, so far as I understand the words they are speaking when they explain the reasons. But I don't understand the sentiment behind it. Santa is the magic of childhood. He is the ability to breathe someone into existence using only your mind and a bit of encouragement from your parents. I don't feel "betrayed" because my parents allowed me to believe and encourage such belief. I am thankful for the magic, the excitement, the wonder of it all. I want my children to have that.

1:55 PM  
Anonymous Much More Than A Mom said...

I still believe in Santa - he's part of the magic of Christmas. Our son is only 8 months old so we don't really have to worry about it yet, but plan to read him "The Polar Express" and other such stories about the magic in the future.
Awesome discussion!

Eggnog enema? Ha!

1:58 PM  
Blogger radioactive girl said...

In my opinion, the magic and spirit of santa is and should be alive all year long. Sure, there isn't an actual person coming and handing out gifts, but each one of us has the power to be "santa" to someone else and deliver happiness and all of our own gifts to others.

My oldest daughter knows santa doesn't actually come to our house, but I am trying really hard to teach them that just because an actual person doesn't come, doesn't mean there is no magic in the world. People are all magical and each one of us has something to give to other people even sometimes when we don't know we are doing so. I have never really said much at all about santa except that people are all magical and wouldn't it be cool if there was such a person who was so selfless and giving as to give things to people they don't even know. My oldest daughter made me cry when she said that I must be santa because I give so much to others. Isn't that what it is really all about? Even though I don't really do the whole santa thing like most people do, my kids know that part of the magic of the world is not spoiling it for other kids who want to believe it all.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

This past year our 9 year old daughter asked point blank if Santa was real, my husband had 'the talk' with her and had to break it to her that he wasn't real, but the spirit of Santa was real. She cried, it broke his heart and it broke my heart-I was much too cowardly to be anywhere close when the conversation went down. Our 5 yr old son still believes whole heartedly in Santa, I am praying that my husband doesn't make me have the 'the talk' with him when he asks about it...I'd much rather have the 'other talk' than this one, that's for sure!!

2:24 PM  
Blogger Buffy said...

I don't think I ever really believed in Santa. But still, I liked the idea of him. I liked the tradition. And so I played along with my parents as much as they played along with me.

5:06 PM  
Anonymous Laura said...

You are a wonderful mother and are giving your child a great gift -the gift of belief, of imagination, of MAGIC.

A childhood without Santa, without the Tooth Fairy, without the possibility of elves, of the Wonderland, and of the Easter Bunny is a lesser childhood.

My daughter will have all of these, as well. When I think back on my own childhood, it's the magic (of holidays, of stories, of my own fertile imagination) that I treasure.

I don't remember what gifts I was given at Christmas, no matter how desperately I wanted them at the time. But I vividly recall falling asleep while straining my ears for the jingle of bells on reindeer harnesses. I remember waking up on Christmas morning to find ashy black boot tracks on the rug, and torn red felt on the fireplace grate (Thanks, Mom!) I remember agonizing over what cookies Santa might like best, and if reindeer would prefer carrots or oats.

I can imagine a childhood without Santa, and it's a darker, less magical place/time.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Well said, bad mother. Another eloquently written observation on a great subject.

I have to admit, we do tell our son CJ that there is a Santa Claus - as some have said, it's part of the whole "magic" of this time of year that will imprint our childhoods. So, yes, it's a lie. We don't practice the "santa scare tactic", and we don't have to. Because he's a good kid, and he's just so darn excited to see what "santa" leaves for him under the tree. And what parent could really spoil that excitement? There's enough truth out there in the world that he will have plenty of time in his life to experience. Now is the time for him to have some innocence this one and only time in his life.

8:50 PM  
Blogger simplicity said...

We don't do Santa with our kids. We never have. I was not raised with it either. We do celebrate St. Nicholas day in Early December where they get little token gifts in their stockings. (Things like ornaments, books etc) but there is no Santa, no talk of Santa. We try to seperate St. Nick Day (which the kids know is us) with Christmas.

9:26 PM  
Blogger PunditMom said...

Such a hard question ... having to choose between "truth" and magic. I'm trying to find a way to have both, not only for R., but for me, as well.

11:25 PM  
Blogger mo-wo said...

I tell her he is pure kindness. And, I ask her if that is important. She say, uh-huh and nods. I will keep to that story FOREVER.

2:15 AM  
Blogger Granny said...

The 13 year old and I were chatting (as opposed to arguing for a change) tonight and the conversation turned to Santa.

Elcie says she's old enough now to not really believe in Santa. Then she said she'd believe in him anyway because it's much more fun.

This was such a great post.

I've been through 3 generations of kids now with Santa, the Mall pictures, and cookies left under the tree on Christmas eve. Not a one has been traumatized; not with Santa, not with the Easter bunny, and not with the tooth fairy even though by now they're humoring me.

As for me, I agree with mo-wo. Much of it is about kindness.

Merry Christmas to you and yours and may your New Year be all that you wish.

Ann

6:05 AM  
Blogger metro mama said...

Right now I tell her "Santa's coming! Santa says Ho! Ho! Ho! Can you say Ho Ho Ho? HO! HO! HO!"

So, yes, we will be embracing Santa around here.

8:27 AM  
Blogger metro mama said...

Right now I tell her "Santa's coming! Santa says Ho! Ho! Ho! Can you say Ho Ho Ho? HO! HO! HO!"

So, yes, we will be embracing Santa around here.

8:28 AM  
Blogger nomotherearth said...

Ha! Ha! Metro Mama - we do the EXACT SAME THING. Good times.

I thought I left a comment here yesterday, but Blogger apparently ate it. Hungry bunny. Imagine that I wrote an incredibly intelligent comment about Santa, children and magic. Okay?

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Bloor West Mama said...

I am not sure what we will tell Isa...my husband and I were not really raised with Santa, for us it was the Baby Jesus (we are both from Latin American countries) and now we are exposing Isa to our Catholic faith.

So I think that we will re-enforce our belief in the Baby Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas for us. Thought I don't know what we will do once she starts coming home from daycare asking about Santa...that's for next year.

But I totally agree with you in how you plan to handle the questions from Wonderbaby.

I am a big beliver of fantasy and make believe and being a kid for as long as possible and I want to give Isa that. She will grow up before I know it and stop believing in many things.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy 2007!

1:27 PM  
Blogger Sandra said...

I wrote about this (though not nearly as eloquently) at easter. I am all about the magical lies. Its innocent childhood imagination and creativity and wonder.

My husband totally disagrees with me but it was part of the deal he signed up for so he plays along.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Grim Reality Girl said...

Santa has always visited our house. We never got big into the "Santa is watching" crap. We just let there be a little mystery and joy. I think there needs to be joy in childhood. Discovering that your Mom and Dad worked hard to add a little magic to your holidays isn't a bad thing. I have always felt bad for my neice who never had Santa. She kept a good secret and felt superior, but what else was gained? What was lost was a touch of wonder... I think it is worth the noble lie to give a touch of the wonder to kids.

Great post.

2:19 PM  
Anonymous zygote daddy said...

d.w. and I have been struggling with the Santa Question, since I never really did the Santa thing but she did. I appreciate your perspective very much, and I think you're right on about it.

Great post.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Plain Jane Mom said...

I'm back to this thread to say that I lie to my kids all the time. For example "I will always protect you. I will always keep you safe." But we as adults know that is impossible.

Should my kids be worried about things that no one can control? Earthquakes? Disease? No. It is my job to do that worrying, so hell yeah I lie to them.

If anyone is going to be up late at night worrying it will be me not them. Lying to kids is not always wrong.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Agreed (and thanks for reminding me of the republic - it's been a few years since I read it). I have so many happy memories of leaving carrots for reindeer and cookies and milk for Santa it doesn't matter that Dad drank the milk and ate the cookies and mum likely made a maple glaze for the carrots.

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Momish said...

I totally believe in fantasy as a means of development for children. I plan to talk about Santa and fairies and unicorns to my child until she tells me to shut up and grow up. They already have inate vivid imaginations from the start and will produce their own wonderlands in addition to the ones that exist. There is time enough to distiguish between reality and myth, and hopefully will forever hold on to the spirit of fantasy way beyond the logical dissmisal of it.

9:32 PM  
Blogger Queso said...

What a wonderful post. I believe in the magic. And I hope you and yours have a very magical Christmas.

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Kimberly said...

I read that op ed piece and hated it too.

I believed in Santa (the fat guy in
the red suit version) until I was 12. I didn't feel betrayed that my parents lied to me. I felt blessed that they allowed me to have that magic. And it's a gift I'm passing on to my children--the gift of magic.

(As an aside, I still have trouble remembering that Sesame Street is not a real place, and that Luis and Maria are actors, not a real married couple. And I was heartbroken and angry the day Mr. Rogers showed his audience the button that makes the trolley work.)

12:01 PM  
Blogger Damselfly said...

How thoughtful. Thanks for that. (Cute photo, too!)

2:09 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

So many words here, so little time. I can't read through all the comments... something about having to work, blah blah blah.

But, what do I tell my kids? I tell them that Santa, the character, is just like Thomas and Elmo and their other favorite characters - he's a nice guy who helps us to think about nice things. Sometimes people like to dress up like characters to make other people smile - remember how fun it was to go to the train station and "meet" Thomas? - and that's great. We don't believe that Thomas REALLY comes in to sprinkle magic coal dust, and we don't believe that Santa REALLY comes in to deliver gifts... but Thomas reminds us to work together, and Santa reminds us to do nice things for each other, and so on.

And the Tooth Fairy does leave Sacagawea dollars in the pillow, because we gotta have some fun...

10:26 AM  
Blogger Karen said...

With my eldest we played the Santa game when he was younger, but now that he's 7 he is showing us the real way to pretend and play this game, to give ourselves over to the fanciful imaginary world of this santa show, by paying no attention to the stage and only looking at the play -we are ignoring the curtains the lights and the orchestra and just being part of the show...the music comes from the air and we're having such a fun time. My younger two are benefitting from growing up with such a magical older brother that he can even draw in their too too cynical parents! What a gift giver he is, our very own santa...

8:13 PM  
Blogger V-Grrrl said...

This was a great post on a complicated topic that explores a lot of angles. What it didn't address is how Christians with children should deal with Santa, how to reconcile the religious practice of Christmas with the secular practice, how to avoid diluting the faithful keeping of Christmas as a religious holiday without squelching its broader meaning for non-Christians. It's an enormous challenge to convey that the real magic of Christmas for Christians is our belief that God came down to earth to live among us, not that reindeer fly and Santa is omniscient.

I won't go into all the ways I try and reconcile the two Christmases for my kids (that could be an entire post), but let me just say the bigger issue for me isn't encouraging a sense of magic and imagination and debating the morality of "lying" to my kids.

6:02 AM  
Blogger ewe are here said...

I really like what you plan to say to Wonderbaby about the magic of Christmas and Santa. I will have to remember this for next year (as MF is only 19 months old and was completely oblivious to the whole Santa things this year).

Great post. Your students are lucky; wish I'd had courses like those you appear to be teaching when I was at University. ;-)

4:56 PM  
Blogger vasilisa said...

I still have no idea how I'll handle it. I'm more inclined to just tell stories of Santa (or Grandfather Frost - the Russian equivalent), but not force it too much... But my husband is adamant about the whole sharade. Apparently it shaped his childhood. We'll see how it all turns out as we go along...

5:08 AM  
Anonymous kim said...

Myths are truth.

1:15 PM  

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