About That Santa Thing…

On Saturday, my five-year-old son said to me, “I know you’re Santa.”

We were in Target, in the aisle between the shoes and the men’s clothing, when he spotted some red Angry Birds slippers. “We should see if they have my size,” he said.

I told him he should maybe wait and see what he gets for Christmas. The day prior, I’d already squirreled away a pair of monster feet slippers, which I’m fairly certain he’ll like better anyway.

“Well,” he said, a bit more loudly, as an employee walked by, “I sure hope Santa is listening.”

The employee made an Awww-face, while I said something to the effect of, “You never know…”

As soon as she passed, his expression turned serious. “I know you’re Santa.”

“Really. And how do you know that?”

His sister! Of course it was her. At eight-years-old, she was already onto me being the Tooth Fairy (after waking up as I deposited the money on her nightstand), and she’d already told her little brother all about it. He has yet to lose his first tooth.

“She told me that one night on Christmas she woke up to see Santa, and it was you.” The boy did not seem at all upset, nor did he appear to take any sort of gleeful satisfaction in “catching” me. He was simply stating the facts, and it was then I realized that he’d put on a performance for the Target employee. If kids are supposed to believe in Santa, and this is where some gifts are…

He startles me, sometimes, with how much he studies the world.

Until we lived in the same city as my mother, “Santa” had been rather lax in his gift-giving duties. Usually he was responsible for the candy and one present. If anything, Grandma deserves the Santa credit because she’s the one who, for example, bought “Santa’s” bicycles. When the kids were born, one of the main reasons why my husband and I even bothered to carry on the tradition was so they wouldn’t feel like they were missing out on something. Someone would inevitably ask, “What did Santa bring you this year?”

There was no point in denying anything. I said, “Don’t tell your [three-year-old] cousin, okay? She doesn’t know yet. And don’t tell your friends at school because you don’t know if they know. You don’t want to ruin it for them.”

He nodded. “I know. It’s a secret. I can tell you because you’re Santa.” Pause. “And my friends’ parents are Santa for them.”

It took me a minute to realize that he meant, “I’m not saying you’re Santa for everybody.”

What’s funny is that this year, my daughter has been saying things like, “I’m going to write Santa a letter,” and “Santa’s the one who got us Pillow Pets last year.” If she’s figured it out, then she’s either trying gauge my reaction to these comments – my answers have been non-committal – or she really wants to believe, Mulder-style, wondering if she will still receive these gifts. It’s probably a mix of both. Part of me wonders if the boy was the one who saw us on Christmas Eve, as he’s usually more stealthy than his sister, and he’s also the type to blame her first.

Either way, it doesn’t matter. Some parents are more hung up on the idea of Santa, the magical anticipation of it all, but my fond memories of Christmas have little to do with Santa, and neither do my husband’s. Christmas can be plenty exciting and happy without Old Saint Nick, and if we’re really being honest about belief, Christmas isn’t a religious holiday for us.

A statue of Maitreya Buddha in Budai form in Emei, Hsinchu, Taiwan
Does this sound familiar? In Buddhist folklore, Budai (or “Hotai”) is often referred to as “The Laughing Buddha,” and he is known for carrying a cloth sack. “Budai is said to travel giving candy to poor children, only asking a penny from Zen monks or lay practitioners he meets.” –via Wikipedia

We don’t push any religion on our children, but my husband has considered himself a Buddhist since his teenage years, and within the past couple of years, I’ve gone from being non-participatory to feeling more closely aligned with Buddhism. Chronic illness has a funny way of making spiritual health a priority. The kids are aware and are the type to practice meditation – though they see that more as a challenge, a way to be able to say, “Look what I can do!” I say that anything they’re willing to do that quiets their mile-a-minute brains is a good thing. Besides, meditation is not a strictly religious activity. I don’t want them to feel like they have to subscribe to the same faith as their parents.

We are Buddhists who celebrate Christmas and who also really enjoy having brisket and potato pancakes come Hanukkah. No, it’s not the end of the world to lose the belief in a literal Santa. For us, holidays are about spending time with family and having some really good meals. The gifts are nice, especially when it’s something the recipient really wanted, but little by little, I hope to cut down on the holiday-related traditions I feel obligated to maintain. I want to keep only what makes us happy.

Every family is different, and so while I support anyone who wants to attend Christmas Eve mass or decorate their home with a nativity scene, I would hope that the respect is reciprocal. Life is hard enough, and winter can be especially difficult, regardless of faith. If your eleven-year-old still believes in Santa Claus, I have no quarrel, but please, don’t judge my five-year-old for being happy without.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

10 replies on “About That Santa Thing…”

This just sparked an interesting conversation with Juniper Junior, who is five, too. He seemed quite happy with Santa not being real. It is, however, not particularly surprising since we’ve never really “done” Santa and have no desire to encourage the story, either. A significant factor in this is beliefs, too, in that we’re pretty much a Humanist family. In short: loved your article!

And post-script, for anyone who might wonder: Since we’ve never really been ones to celebrate Easter (again, that whole not being Christian thing), the kids are well aware that Grandma is the Easter Bunny. Because she was basically like, “YOU CAN’T NOT GIVE THEM BASKETS!” All right fine, have at it, Mom!

It’s nice that she wants to do that for them, though. And we sort of treat it like, “Happy Spring!” while also explaining that for a lot of people, it’s a religious holiday.

I don’t even know how we got started on the whole Santa thing. We didn’t do the whole “plunk the terrified baby down on Mall-Santa’s lap” thing, but rather didn’t mention Mall-Santa at all until my daughter was old enough to ask. It might have been my mom who started in with it first.

You know, Second-Child-Syndrome: After the first one, you kind of forget what happened when. ;)

I love this. We are Christians who don’t do Santa and the tree and all that, so our 5-year-old experiences Christmas much differently than his classmates. We are working hard on making sure that he sees that Santa is a story that some parents tell, and Santa is different for everyone. And he is absolutely not to tell his friends at school that Santa isn’t real. I don’t want to get kicked off the PTO.

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