I don’t own a pair of those record-everything “Google Glasses,” but there are times I wish they had been invented much sooner.
Like the moment in 2010 when my oldest son – then 2 – first saw an image of Santa Claus. He and I had been enjoying a father-son night at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, having just finished off a shared plate of chicken and dumplings after coloring the kids’ menu.
But before leaving we wanted one more moment in front of the restaurant’s fireplace, and it was that moment I could have used those Google Glasses.
“Noah!” he shouted.
Caught off guard and trying not to laugh, I replied, “Did you say Noah?”
“Yeah, Noah!” he excitedly responded, pointing upward at the fireplace mantle, where a small statuette of Santa Claus resided.
And then it hit me: This is how a child who has not been raised to know anything about Santa responds.
I grew up believing in Santa – studying toy catalogs and writing letters to the North Pole — but when I reached adulthood I pretty much decided that I didn’t want to continue that tradition with my children. And then I married someone who felt the same way. And so it was an easy decision: We wouldn’t “do Santa.”
Of course, such a decision would have no impact on anyone at all if my family lived in the Alaskan wilderness or in the northern parts of British Columbia or pretty much anywhere in Wyoming. But we don’t. We live in a town near a mid-sized city. We interact with people, and our kids do, too.
When our kids were very little, we never mentioned Santa around them. No books about Santa. No TV shows about him. Nothing. When strangers asked them what Santa was bringing them for Christmas, they responded with a “what-planet-are-you-from” look – and we all laughed.
As they aged, though, they learned from friends who Santa was. But because we didn’t reinforce the Santa story at home, they naturally placed him alongside other fictional characters such as Clifford The Big Red Dog and Charlie Brown. It was only when they were 5 or 6 and running into friends who “believe in” Santa that they came home with questions. And so we tell them that some families practice Santa and some kids believe he’s real — and that we shouldn’t ruin it for them. But, of course, kids are kids, and everything doesn’t always go as planned.
Sadly, Santa has turned into one of those taboo subjects for Christians that we can’t discuss without dividing into camps, getting angry, and questioning everyone’s motives, patriotism and faith. We have friends on both sides of this, and we get along just fine.
My family does eat apple pie and we do celebrate the Fourth of July and we even like baseball. We just don’t “do Santa.” Here’s four reasons why:
1. Santa’s, well … not “magical” enough. Sure, it’s fun to pretend our kids get presents from a magical man in a magical sleigh, but Christmas is already “magical” enough. In other words, we don’t need Santa to make Christmas more spectacular or memorable or amazing. It’s already “other-worldly” and unbelievable. Here’s what we’re celebrating at Christmas: A helpless infant who created the universe, who had made the very hands that held Him; a baby who knew absolutely nothing and literally everything all at the same time; a newborn who was born to grow up, die and save the world. The story of Santa sounds so pitiful and pointless compared to that. If anything, it distracts from a far more wonderful message. I fear if most kids had to choose between the two, they’d choose the reindeer guy.
2. Santa’s, well … a bad example. If our children and America’s children learned to give by hearing the story of Santa, believe me, I’d be tempted to join the party. But the story of Santa isn’t about giving. It’s about getting. Santa can be summed up in six words: “What am I getting for Christmas?” Santa’s the rich grandpa with no boundaries, who gives the grandkids everything they want and more. My kids (and many that I know) already are selfish enough without adding Santa to the mix. My three children do fight over toys and they do shout “mine!” more than I’d like, but (thankfully) they have never asked me what they’re getting for Christmas.
3. Santa’s, well … not real. My children know the difference between reality and fantasy. The other day, for instance, I was joking with my two-year-old twins and told them we were going to go outside and look for a kangaroo. But when they laughed and pressed me for the truth, I said with a smile, “Daddy’s only teasing.” They know kangaroos don’t live in the American wild. But what if I had told them that there “really are” kangaroos in the woods surrounding my town but that we never see them because they’re “so fast?” They’d believe me. I do enjoy the story about the real Saint Nicholas (270-343), but he’s been dead for 1,700 years. Let’s put it this way: I’m not creative enough to celebrate Santa without lying. Perhaps there are parents who can get around the “is he real?” question with a “what do you think?” response. I can’t.
4. Santa’s well … a real downer. I remember how it felt when I believed in Santa. It was amazing, wonderful, exciting, exhilarating. I’d look forward to it 365 days a year, type my letter to Santa in November, count down the days in December, and watch the evening weather on Christmas Eve to see if Santa’s sleigh was close. Then I’d wake up early on Christmas morning with giddy anticipation and run to the tree. It was great – so great that as an adult I really am tempted to re-live that with my children. But I can’t. That’s because I also remember the kids who told me he wasn’t real. It was as if someone told me football and pizza didn’t exist. But it wasn’t the fault of those kids. At some point I would have learned the truth.
So this Christmas season, please forgive my youngest kids for shouting “Noah” when they see Old St. Nick in Walmart. They’re excited about the season, too, but just for different reasons. They’re ready to get on that ark.
Michael Foust is an editor and writer who blogs about parenting and fatherhood. He loves his family and also really likes stove top popcorn. Interested in re-posting this in your publication or on your blog for free? Send me a message in the comments section below (the message won’t go public). Also, check out my video section.