“Mom?” I asked, somewhat reluctantly to my Mom, still much taller than my child-shaped self.
“Yes?” She replied, while folding laundry on the hard concrete floor of our basement laundry room.
“Is Santa Claus real?” I awaited an answer that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to know.
It was at this moment that my mother articulated a beautifully composed response about the spirit of Saint Nicholas, his generous heart and loving soul, and how she, now as my parent, got to carry on that cheerful spirit for him.
I wasn’t traumatized. I wasn’t scarred for life because she and my dad has snuck presents under the tree every Christmas Eve after us kids were asleep. Truthfully, Santa Claus didn’t end after that conversation. He continued to visit all of our childhood years, as if her and my little talk was only a moment of passing knowledge but not a reason for ending of a fun family tradition.
It is for this reason that Santa visits our house, now that I have a family of my own. We visit him at SantaLand in downtown Portland. We bake him cookies and set out a glass of milk for him. He sends “Elfie” to watch over the kids each holiday season. And lastly, he fills our stockings and leaves a scrawled little note in the very same handwriting that he left me as a child. He is fun. Or rather, it is fun.
But he doesn’t take center stage. He isn’t what our Christmas is all about. Please don’t read this lightly, this part is really important. Our family will always acknowledge the birth of Jesus, our most gracious savior and truest friend, as the real reason for the season. Our Christmas decorations reflect him in the nativity and angel on our tree. Yet they are lovingly set out alongside Elfie and Santa ornaments. In the same way “Oh come let us adore Him” is featured on a playlist that neighbors one with “Rock around the Christmas Tree”. They coexist, just as they did in my very own childhood.
I didn’t grow up in a Christian home per se. Yes, we had a foundational belief in God and we knew that Christmas was the celebration of Baby Jesus’ birth in a manger. We attended the midnight Christmas Eve service at our rarely-visited Episcopalian church. Even in this very mildly religious home, we knew that Jesus was real. The truth about Santa did not, in the very slightest, alter my faith that Jesus was the very basis and very biggest reason for the season.
Now, as my kids overhear little words of Santa-doubt from their friends and come home to ask me about them, I simply return their questions to them in various forms of “What do you think about that?” I don’t explicitly answer their “How does Santa do this, how does Santa do that?” questions because they will figure this whole thing out as time naturally leads them and it isn’t up to me to keep making up stories and lies to cover over their natural ability to realize the clever truth. I am glad that my parents lied to me to the degree that they did. Or rather, perhaps more appropriately communicated, I am glad that they played the role that they played for the sweetness and wonder of our childhood imaginations. I hope that my children will feel the same about the way that we did this for them. I am already planning for when that turning-point question comes and I actually look forward to giving the same graceful response that my mom had for me.
This year it has been a great pleasure to see new wonder in our children’s eyes about Jesus’ birth itself. I watched “The Nativity” with them, a movie created a few years ago that plays out the story of Jesus’ miraculous arrival on earth from conception to birth. We also watched a fascinating documentary called “The Star of Bethlehem” about the star that led the wise men and shepherds to the site where Jesus was born. These intentional focuses have inspired many new questions and inquiries from the kids, which have naturally turned their attentions away from Santa and gifts to God and his love for all of humankind.
The decision about how to handle Santa is sometimes controversial, something that I never realized until I became a full-fledged Christian in adulthood. It is a personal decision of each family and I completely respect whatever each family decides is the best for them. I understand the points of view and would always encourage people to do whatever feels right and best in their own spirits and consensuses. For us, however, we are looking forward to Santa’s visit this season and I think that we will look back, after our children are grown, and think fondly about the pleasure that it was to carry on the giving spirit of Saint Nicholas. Knowing all along, that without Jesus, there would be no Christmas, no love, no generosity, no reason for this season of giving, gifting and laughter.
What does your family do? How are you/did you raise your children? Please (I love comments!) let me know in the comments section below.