The Santa Dilemma

Santa: Magic or Lies?

Santa has become an ethical dilemma. Maybe I over-complicate things (okay I KNOW I do), but I had a very simplistic view of this whole Santa situation before I was the one shape shifting from Mom to Santa myself.

Pre-parenting: Santa is so much fun! He IS the magic of the secular part of Christmas. He brings the very presents we want, he visits us at malls, he eats cookies we leave for him Christmas Eve, he lives with highly skilled elves. He IS the can’t-sleep-excitement on Christmas Eve.

Post-parenting: It’s a little strange to encourage my young children to sit on a strange man’s lap. I kind of want credit for Santa’s presents because they are the best. Can’t forget different wrapping paper so we don’t blow the whole Santa cover. Ooohh – the Santa motivation to behave – we can use this! Wait, is that okay?

Santa IS Real

I have met parents who make a deliberate decision to never introduce Santa because of the whole untruthiness of it. I have heard from these same parents that this was unpredictably impossible due to our Santa-soaked culture. In fact, the kids may simply refuse to be a non-believer, telling their parents they are in fact wrong, and Santa IS real.

As my own kids have gotten older, with more capacity to ask us the difficult questions about Santa’s existence (most recently from the 4-year-old: “how does Santa’s magic get IN his body?”), my responses have become less and less confident and elaborate as I wonder how far to let this charade go. I now simply default to “it’s magic.”

The other night my 9-year-old was upset about having a bad day for a variety of reasons, but she added that her friend doesn’t believe in Santa. My heart raced as I thought, “this is it - our moment of truth.” I danced around the disclosure to make sure she was ready to hear it. I asked her what she thinks, and if this idea bothers her, does she want to talk more about it, etc. She swiftly changed subjects. I think she knows, but doesn’t want to really know.

Santa Behavior Method

Then there’s the whole “he’s always watching” idea, which kind of goes against our emphasis on respecting privacy. With our first two kids, the Santa-driven “good” behavior lasted several weeks, but even then I questioned if this really was a sound way to encourage positive behaviors and discourage negative behaviors. For one thing, this power instantly disappears after presents are ripped open Christmas morning. Then what?

Then there’s the whole ‘he’s always watching’ idea, which kind of goes against our emphasis on respecting privacy.

That gets us to our (in)famous third child who time and time again reminds us we are not done learning about parenting. The Santa behavior method worked the first time we used it this year — exactly one time — and ever since, this sensitive 4-year-old bursts into tears when we mention Santa watching him.

When Dad picked him up from school the other day, he tearfully confessed that he had done something “bad” at school. Upon questioning, he did not get in trouble with the teachers and they did not know about it. “Oh, he feels actual remorse, that’s great.” Nope. Santa’s prying eyes motivated the confession.

His sisters earnestly remind him Santa’s watching, and the pre-meltdown phase immediately escalates to full-blown meltdown because of the added pressure. Santa is stressing him out. My husband and I have decided Santa is no longer judging his every move, but cares most about his EFFORTS. “He just wants you to try, buddy.”

I know we could abandon the whole concept, but the fact is this kid LOVES Santa. He comments on every single Santa his big eyes behold, and he wants as much Santa in his December life as possible. The prospect of seeing Santa decorations at Home Depot motivates him to cooperate with this boring errand.

So, is it magic or lies? Are we enriching or betraying our kids?

Final Santa Verdict

The Santa Dilemma

The Santa Dilemma

I remember as a child finally admitting Santa did not exist, but I continued to be a believer because it was more fun. I was probably 9 or 10 when I KNEW, but I found presents from Santa under the tree well into my teens. We were all complicit in the lie, parents and child together. So I remind myself that I did not feel betrayed by my parents, just sad when the magic drifted away.

I think there’s a reason Santa has endured (apparently since an 1823 poem made him super famous, according to Wikipedia). We all need to believe in magic sometimes. We may not need to sit on magic’s lap or worry that magic is stalking us, but maybe magic is a harmless old, bearded, jolly man who brings a few presents.

Maybe it works because our kids DON’T overthink it and take it for what it is: fun. As long as we the parents don’t take it too seriously.

What’s your verdict?