Will The Real Santa Please Stand up
This is the weekend many parents will be wrapping presents and hiding them from children in closets and under the bed, in preparation for the arrival of the big man in red next week. It got me thinking about how many kids really, truly believe in the story of Santa Claus. Because as I look back on my own childhood, I know I never did.
I’m a youngest child in a large family and that position tends to bring with it the learning of certain truths at a young age. But my parents never pushed the idea of a man flying through the sky on a sled full of presents in the first place. We celebrated on Christmas Eve and as the day approached the pile of presents under the tree grew. Each package had a tag attached, having come from a real relative like my auntie Bee or “Santa”, which was obviously Mom & Dad. I knew the story of Santa Claus but it was just that, a story. On Christmas morning the stockings were full, but I always knew my parents were behind that too.
Kristina says she definitely believed, and that for her Santa came twice – on Christmas eve at her aunt’s house and then again on Christmas morning at home. (She is obviously an only).
“I remember one specific Christmas eve that blew my mind. I must have been around 5. I went to the bathroom, I think my mom told me to go wash my hands or something. All of a sudden I heard a commotion outside and everyone was yelling “Kristina, Kristina, come quickly!” I ran out and there was a brand new baby carriage (for pushing dolls) in the hallway. They all said “Santa was just here and he dropped this off for you, you were in the bathroom and just missed him! I was quite disappointed that I didn’t catch sight of him but quickly forgot about it as I was overjoyed with my present!”
Did I miss out? Many cultures around the world celebrate Christmas with traditions that don’t include a fat man trying to fit down a chimney. My jewish friends tell their kids not to ruin it for those who believe in the fantasy. What all traditions do share is a message rooted in togetherness, peace, and helping those in need.
Some would argue the modern day story of Santa has lost sight of what’s important and become too caught up in expectations. (It is a tale based on a real person, Saint Nicholas the Turkish priest who gave money to poor people.) But at it’s core, the story is a positive one, encouraging children to write letters about the good they have done.
There is no question, a child believing in magic is healthy. It fosters a big imagination and a creative mind. But at some point kids figure out the reality, typically before the age of 10. And for some that may be a rite of passage. My 13 year old friend Madison Brown says she realized the truth when she was about 9. “I wasn’t really disappointed (in finding out Santa wasn’t real), but I was upset my parents lied to me.”
Experts say parents need to decide when their child is mature enough to handle the truth and that every kid is different. Further, that figuring it out for themselves is an important step in learning critical thinking. When asked if Santa is real, one possible response is, “What do you think?” Or telling children that if they believe he’s real, then he is.
Christmas time for me as a kid was always thrilling and my happy memories are of being together and having our own unique traditions. There were always a lot of presents (big family) and for some reason it was my job to hand them out. Each person would open a gift as we all looked on, before moving to the next. It took forever. But as I think back I can’t recall any specific material gift that left an impact (although the enormous underwear my grandma sent every year was always good for a laugh).
I like to think I was ahead of the curve in not believing the myth of Santa Claus. It’s not as though I didn’t spend time daydreaming about magic and mystery. I believed in the Tooth Fairy. I imagined her to be pretty, skinny, wearing a fabulous dress and it was so cool that she could fly! And best of all, she left cash.