Of all the things I’ve done as a parent, the thing I have taken the most heat for has been choosing not to participate in the charade. That is, the Santa charade.
Considering we have the internet, I was frankly befuddled with how other parents succeeded in upholding this farce with their own kids, and why they were disappointed—even aghast—to learn that mine were not in on it.
My husband and I are criminals, you see. We never told our kids Santa was coming down the chimney. (He wasn’t.)
And it’s not just Santa. We also never planted the idea that the Easter Bunny was hopping around littering plastic eggs underneath the sofa. (Nobunny was.)
We are guilty of the high crime of producing non-believers. We won’t plead innocent because we are willing co-conspirators in this non-heist.
My husband wasn’t raised with Christmas or Easter. He’s the product of Korean immigrants who were largely ambivalent toward commercial holidays. No mythological gift-bearers crept into his apartment as a kid—there were enough people in the apartment to begin with!
I, conversely, grew up with both Santa and Easter Bunny, who wrote letters to my siblings and me on legal tablets. Sure, we noticed their handwriting was similar (and just like my dad’s), but I drank the blind belief Kool-Aid and continued to imbibe until I was nine. I loved the holidays and relished the lightheartedness and surprises they brought.
But there were a few things about these creatures that didn’t sit well with me. The promise that I was being watched, so that I knew better than to act out, was plain confusing. They also seemed overly tied to commercialism.
When we became parents, we didn’t make a conscious decision to not Santa. We decorated our home, bought presents, took pictures with the bearded guy in the mall. We simply didn’t create any mystique. Instead, I spent the entire year focusing on offering my children an ethos of grace and dutifulness, not simply as certain holidays drew near. If I was going to tell my kids to stop mouthing off to me, it was going to be in the name of having good character, not for fear of coal in their stockings.
Now, some will argue that believing in Santa is fun for kids and that it does not conflate to behavioural correction. But, we just choose not to participate. It’s not piety, or a severe judgment on other traditions. It’s about doing what was right for our family.
In a world where decisions to circumcise, cloth diaper (or diaper at all), use baby sign language, or speak more than one language are part of the territory of “You do you,” I thought we were in a new era of flexible parenting. However, when I rolled up to a gathering of friends I hadn’t seen in over a year, a mother with two kids (ages 3 and 1), took me aside and asked point-blank if my kids were going to tell her kids (one of whom could barely talk!) the truth about Santa. You know how all those non-believing kids are. They just get such a kick out of tearing down the beloved traditions of other families.
I wondered if this person would feel as emboldened to ask a Jewish mother if her children were going to tell kids that Jesus was not the actual Son of God? Or if she presumed all kids who knew swear words were hell-bent on speaking them to innocent ears? The confrontation left me feeling attacked and grasping for an appropriate response.
With some distance, I’ve realized what I wish I had said. I know now that I could have assured her with equanimity that we have raised our kids to be respectful of other people’s beliefs and traditions. If anything, raising a couple of Santa non-believers has made me more sensitive to all the ways that we can be attentive and reverent toward differences in customs and beliefs, be they religious, cultural or otherwise.
As we enter the tween years with our two children, I marvel at the ways they absorb information, with the ready accessibility of content at their fingertips. I also am amazed by how broad their worldview is compared to my own at their age. I am not always confident in the decisions I have made to help them become good citizens. And, sure, I worry that we haven’t turned them toward positive influences as much as we have restricted them from some negative ones. But, I’m fairly confident in our decision to raise them as kids who receive gifts from a variety of people whom they have met.
This article was originally published online in November 2019.