Santa brings the best presents to the kids whose parents have a lot money and may not even visit children whose parents barely have enough money to eat or pay their bills. He’s OK, I guess, but not for my family. I decided early on that I wouldn't "do" Santa with my kids. While the idea of Santa is sort of magical, it really boils down to a lot of manipulation and injustice. Santa is used as a tool to keep kids from being "naughty" (a word that I refuse to use in my home) and bribe them into obedience.
My decision not to “do” Santa amazes some people, even though I’m sure no one would mind if I politely bowed out of the giving-of-coal tradition popular elsewhere in the world. Santa is a popular tradition, but he’s inherently optional. My children still have a magical Christmas.
We simply treat him just like any other lovable pop culture icon.
On December 1, we bring out the Christmas decorations. Our tree-topper is a 3D paper star that I made with my daughter when she was a toddler. My children play under the lights of the Christmas tree and marvel at how beautiful and sparkly and magical it is. We start playing Christmas music shortly after Halloween (sometimes even before, #notsorry) and sing our favorites at the top of our lungs all throughout the house and during car rides. We bake cookies and drink hot cocoa and take horse drawn carriage rides through downtown. We fill our cups to the brim with Christmas magic.
At this time of year, the jolly white-bearded man in a red suit is unavoidable. We don’t choose to keep our children in a bubble, so they are exposed to the many Santa movies and stories. Over the years we have come to embrace him with open arms — in the mall or at holiday events. We simply treat him just like any other lovable pop culture icon.
Our family was one of the first ones in line to see Santa when he arrived downtown this year. My son and daughter eagerly climbed onto Santa's lap, gave him hugs, and wished him Merry Christmas. “What do you want me to bring you for Christmas this year?” Santa asked. My daughter looked at me with a raised eyebrow and listed the things already on her wish list for family members.
When we left, she checked with me, “Santa doesn’t really bring presents, does he?”
I answered her honestly, “Some families believe that Santa brings presents. In our family, Mommy and Daddy and other people in our family will choose presents for you.”
“Grandma really likes to send a lot of presents,” she laughs before skipping off to play. My mother-in-law’s love language is well acknowledged — and greatly appreciated — in our family.
My daughter was 16 months old the first time she was asked, “What did Santa give you for Christmas?” by another kid, a little boy that I nannied.
She ran quickly on her tiny toddler legs to retrieve the miniature rainbow spiky ball that she had chosen from the prize box after sitting on Santa’s lap the week before. She beamed proudly as she held it out to share with her friend, “Santa. Ball.”
The boy: “That’s it?” To a 5-year-old, a rainbow spiky ball left much to be desired. He rattled off the long list of things he had unwrapped on Christmas morning.
My children have a short list of gifts that they have received from Santa. There’s the rainbow spiky ball that has now been in our home for five Christmases. It is still lovingly referred to as “the Santa ball.” The year we went to visit Santa on the Coca-Cola truck, my children each received plush polar bears with red Coca-Cola scarves. Last year, when we went on a Christmas train, Santa handed out candy canes to all the children, and because my kids have food allergies, I had given Santa’s helper special stickers to give to my kids instead.
Now that my daughter is older, she continues to answer with the gifts that Santa has brought or given her throughout the years. She understands that some kids believe that Santa brings them presents. Since there’s no big “truth about Santa” reveal in her home, my children don’t feel the need to “ruin” it for other kids. Santa does give my children presents so they don’t run around telling kids that Santa doesn’t bring presents. In our house, our family exchange gifts on Christmas.
My children each picked a gift for each other at our local toy store’s Small Business Saturday sale. They have planned gifts for their grandparents and are working on making special gifts for their friends. Their Christmas includes presents — just from people they know.
The thing about our treatment of Santa is that presents are not the make-or-break moment of the day. We celebrate a secular Christmas, but also acknowledge the religious reason for the celebration. My husband and I are not religious, but my children will always have the choice to be. We spend the day cooking and eating and playing together. We sing our favorite Christmas songs and stay in our jammies and snuggle and watch movies. Some years, we even play in the snow.
I hope that Christmas will always be a magical time for our family. Shifting the emphasis to family traditions and family gift-giving will hopefully preserve that magic for them for years to come.
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