Growing up, there were a few hard facts about Christmas, things I knew to be true:
1. Santa does not visit apartment buildings. That’s why we traveled to my Gramma’s house every year.
2. One must stake out one’s present-opening location early, and defend it aggressively.
3. Our Santa prefers beer over milk.
4. Once bedtime has been declared only grownups and approved older kids can be downstairs. Peeking is punishable by lots of people freaking out and jumping in front of half-assembled things. Stay in bed, even if your older sister put your Lip Smacker on her toe.
5. Waking up for present-opening prior to 6 a.m. is not acceptable (unless Auntie Joan is awake at 5 and even then your parents are gonna be a little cranky about it).
6. One is permitted to open one’s stocking without parental supervision BUT THAT’S IT.
7. Stockings are not filled by Santa. Stockings are filled by people’s parents or spouses or someone else if the person in charge drank too much wine and forgot. In our case, Dad’s last minute Walmart/Dollarama run was as much a part of Christmas canon as the Little Drummer Boy himself.
There are many ways in which Santa was unique in our family, but those were the big ones. So last week, at an event where there were children nearby but not really paying attention or in earshot, I idly mentioned buying tissue paper for M’s stocking to another adult, and was completely confused when another parent flew across the room to whisper in my ear that stocking talk should cease lest I ruin Santa.
Of course I stopped talking (and it was just a one sentence, one-off comment that none of the kids heard anyway) but it threw me for a loop. It never really occurred to me that Santa was supposed to be the same for everyone, everywhere — if anyone asked me about our stocking situation I’d just say that Santa is different at our house. In retrospect I guess pop culture says Santa fills the stockings but we had a Christmas morning with dozens of people and there was no way Santa was playing fair or we’d ALL be getting jewelry boxes in our socks.
There are some Santa conundrums I’m thinking about this year, and that’s just one of them. M is only one year old this Christmas so I have lots of time to figure it out, but still — on the stocking subject, how do you tell kids that Santa is the stocking filler guy, if they are of an age where they can read the words STOCKING STUFFER splashed in glittery letters across every flyer, catalog and in-store sign you might encounter in December? I can see how you can twist all the other Christmas gifts for sale into a Santa-friendly narrative, given that lots of people other than Santa purchase holiday presents, but unless you tell your kids that Santa shops at Shopper’s Drug Mart, that STOCKING STUFFER label is gonna raise questions, no?
And, in the age of the internet, how do you stop your kid from simply Googling to find out if Santa exists? Most of the kindergarten age kids I know can blast through YouTube videos faster than I can, and all of them can work an iPhone. There are no Google safeguards against Santa searches (I checked) so that’s an all-year issue. Siri, for the record, will not answer.
Santa screwed up a few times in our household and I still managed to suspend my disbelief for a few years longer. One time he brought me the same shirt my mom gave me (explained away as Santa giving me a different size because he knew I’d like it so much that I’d want to still be able to wear it when I was bigger). Sometimes he put the wrong label on gifts and we had to trade. I remember at least one year when he didn’t touch the cookies. And he ALWAYS left the price tag on at least one gift.
So — Matt and I differ in our Christmas philosophies. I was a diehard Santa fan as a kid but when I decided I no longer believed it wasn’t traumatic at all because suddenly I got to be one of the people who stayed up late nibbling cookies, wrapping presents, and continuing the magic for the younger crowd. For one Christmas between my realization and admitting it, I stayed quiet to make sure I’d still get presents. Matt recalls being really upset when Santa fell apart for him, however, so he’s reluctant to do the whole Santa thing with M.
I, on the other hand, can’t imagine Christmas without some Santa magic but I’m not a diehard. Right now I’ve settled on sort of a don’t ask don’t tell Santa tradition for us. I’m not going to be a rabid Santa parent who must keep Santa real at all costs (I will never move an Elf on the Shelf around, believe me). I want M to understand that different households have different traditions, and some people don’t believe in Santa, or Christmas, or any of the things which we celebrate, and that’s okay.
Matt doesn’t want to outright lie, and I don’t want to be coldly practical, so we have to meet somewhere in the middle. I think M’s looming “Is Santa real?” queries will be met with answers like, “What do you think?” and there will be an explanation of the real St. Nicholas, and a bit of education about holidays in different places and cultures around the world. There will still be magic, and she will believe what she wants to believe, and I won’t overly discourage or encourage anything. If she decides the jig is up, she can join us for the after-bedtime party.
I don’t want to walk on eggshells or dictate other people’s holidays, either, though. I’m willing to explain things to my daughter if she has questions. I’m not worried about Santa being ruined. Maybe I’ll change my mind if she’s six years old and SUPER into Santa, but I am hoping that the environment of our household is conducive to Santa being more of a fun thing than a way of life (and trust me, Santa is not going to be a ‘be good for goodness sake’ weapon because there are lots of things wrong with maintaining that someone can watch you at all times to determine if you are worthy of gifts at the end of the year).
Last year Santa brought us each a gift. This year I think he’s at it again. He’ll probably drop a few things off every year. I, however, am the stocking filler for Matt and M and the cats and that’s not a secret. This Santa also prefers beer, by the way.
This is probably one of those JUST YOU WAIT things where the experienced parents are face palming at me and my grand proclamations, I know. So I’m curious — what do you do about Santa? What do you do about Christmas advertising, and Google, and all of the other warring aspects of your holiday celebration?