In the spirit of Christmas, I thought I might share both a really happy experience, paired with a question of mine that I have asked myself at different intervals of my life, which is that one day, if I should have a family of my own- will I teach them to believe in Santa Claus? If so, how far shall I push at this belief? Should I allow them to believe whole heartedly, for how can I deny any small heart the prospect and joy in the figure of Santa Claus? I gather that this perusal at notions of upbringing may be somewhat similar to that of bringing religion into a household, for here, we also apply faith, and hope, albeit amongst commercialized and materialistic desires.
I question the idea of raising my children to believe in Santa Claus because I remember how heartbroken I was to realize he was not real. I was in the third grade, and I believed in him with all my heart. I remember being in my classroom, at a round table. We were all doing some form of third grader work. It may have been coloring, or writing. We were chatting as we went about this task. I had two classmates, a boy and girl, working at my table. They were saying that Santa Claus was not real. This discussion upset me, and I proceeded to defend this allegation and told them he was real. They looked at me in that snickering look of children who apparently Know More and asked me, how do you know. And I told them boldly, I write letters to Santa, and he responds to them. The boy then demanded to see the letter from Santa. And I believe I was at a loss, because I was so sure that I had, with the help of my mother, posted letters to Santa every year, and that I had also received responses every year. Knowing the mind of a 7 year old, though, I, of course, could not recall what had become of the actual responses. My mother had probably stored it in some safe little box, but once the letter was out of sight, it was out of mind. I didn’t know what had become of them, or where they were. Regardless, I was unable to immediately produce these pieces of evidence, and had nothing more to say.
It was at this point that a little blonde classmate of mine said something quite crucial that I have carried with me for always. Her name was Elizabeth, and she had always been known to be one of the smart ones in a class of little people. She had been standing with us at the table the whole time, amidst the bickering, and then she said in a quiet voice, “I believe in the spirit of Christmas.” I remember being in awe of her response, and that I had felt that she was older when she said it. It’s that feeling you get when you are surprised by how mature a person is, but I wouldn’t have known it at that point, for I was not mature enough myself to know what maturity looked like, or sounded like.
I tested my mother with this idea in a car ride shortly afterwards in the discussion of whether Santa was real or not. And then, I remember the moment that I repeated Elizabeth’s exact words to my mother, thus alluding to the fact that Santa wasn’t real. I believe in the spirit of Christmas. My mother’s happiness at this response was off the roof. She told me that this type of thinking was “mature”. And it was at that point that I realized that it was true, and he wasn’t real. My heart sunk. I have never forgotten that feeling, and that car ride, and being in the front seat during that conversation. 7 years old, and no longer a true believer of Santa.
Do I want to give my child this experience, this belief, only to have their little heart shattered when they grow a little older? Will they appreciate, years down the road, that for about the first 10 years of their life they had someone like Santa Claus to believe in? Or would they look back and be like, why was I ever raised to believe in him to begin with? All that, for nothing.
Personally, I don’t think I would have wished for different. I am a fanciful girl. Not having Santa Claus in my life to reflect back upon in my childhood would have been something I would have felt sad about. Maybe for the more practical child growing up, it would not have been such a loss. But it would have been a loss for me. My parents went to great lengths to bring Santa alive in my life. We always received a letter written from Santa on Christmas morning, the cup of milk and the cookies were always devoured. My dad would sprinkle baby powder on the bottom of gum boots and walk carefully around the house in them to leave footprints on the ground while we were fast asleep. “It’s from the snow in the North Pole,” my mother would convince me the next morning. I was always delighted to follow Santa’s trail of footprints.
At the beginning of this month, I had an encounter that I think I will cherish for a long time coming. I was going through the mall, simply trying to finish a cup of tea before I got back out to begin driving. Walking leisurely walking down the hall, I was coming past the giant Santa throne that had been set up for yearly picture taking. It was the middle of the day, early on in the week. There weren’t a lot of people around. And suddenly, I saw that the figure walking down the hall in my direction was Santa Claus. I realized that I had never seen Santa off his photo shoot seat in all the years that I have stepped through the mall. I have never seen the intervals in which he came on and off that throne ever. It then occurred to me that I had also never had a conversation with Santa, one on one. It was a big moment for me as we started to step closer down the hall towards each other. My shy desire to talk to him led me to display a really big smile on my face. He responded to this by waving to me from a distance, like we were old friends. And as he neared and was about to walk past me, I took out my hand and touched him gently on the arm, then said, “Hello Santa. How are you.”
He paused, placed one gloved white hand on my right hand, another hand at my left elbow, and we made small talk in the middle of the mall with that friendly, semi embrace. He asked me about the tea I was drinking. Recommended a place he liked to have tea. And then he asked me to come by and take a picture later. I wished I could have taken a self photo with us on my cell phone. But I thought maybe I shouldn’t, this is what he charges people for. But at that moment, it was like some big aspect of my childhood fancies came back. I wanted to meet the figure I so cherished as a child. He was a very kind old man, and I’m glad he took his position in that suit to heart enough that he never stopped to be anyone other than Santa in front of me. The child in me still needed that, still loved the idea of Santa Claus.
So, will I teach my children to believe in Santa? I’m still not sure. I feel that I could never deny a child that happiness in believing in him. I just hope that when they one day realize that he doesn’t truly exist… their hearts will only endure minimal damage. I hope that they will not resent me for sharing the vision of Santa being real with them, that they will come to see the value in this man’s display of merriment; a component that is packaged with all that the Christmas season embodies. That he is someone who represents the interaction of gift giving, and that they may continue to welcome him alongside the many other realities we will experience in life. And, most of all, in the spirit of Christmas, that they will embrace the warmth that this figure of love and generosity presents to the world.
Wishing everyone happy holidays, and a wonderful new year.