I have gotten a lot of flak about this. “You are ruining the magic of your child’s childhood. You should not be telling him this!”
I understand the angst. I absolutely condone the intention behind the ‘lie’, but then why do we need to lie that there is a person? One person? And then blatantly lie over and over again when we see, in plain sight at every mall, every fair and every celebration, a different kind of Santa, tall and short, plump and skinny, of every race and age? Isn’t it obvious that there is more than one Santa?
That Santa is not just one person?
You can tell the truth and preserve your child’s belief in the wonder of Santa. The great let down of finding out that Santa is not real and then dealing with the heartbreak of every moment in childhood that you spent ardently believing in him… there is a way to avoid all of that. What if I tell you that you can have the magic of the holiday season with none of the letdowns? This is how the conversation played out between my son and I:
Child: Mama, why are there so many Santas?
Me: Are there so many?
Child: Yes, they are everywhere and they all look different.
Me: Yes, you are right. Why do you think that is?
Child: Because there are many Santas?
Me: Hmm… yes. Or?
Child: I don’t know. Like we play pretend? In Halloween how we dress up like people. Are they all dressing like Santa?
Me: That’s an idea! Can I tell you a secret?
Me: Santa is a feeling. He is not a person.
Child: What do you mean?
Me: You know that cosy, exciting, fun feeling you get during the holidays? That is Santa.
Child: So that is why there are so many? What about my presents?
Me: Your presents come from love. Love is a feeling.
You do not have to give a concrete ‘yes’ or ‘no’. There is no black and white and in fact, there are no answers. We are feelings, we are, if we want to really delve into the heart of it, the unknown. That is where we live. Humanity does not fit neatly into a box, who we are at our essence is not easily defined. We are everything and we are nothing. And our children know this. There is a beautiful indefinable feeling in the air during the holidays and that is love. Santa is a feeling. My son looks even more excited now that the power to give him presents is not restricted by the whims and fancies of one person who will only give him something if he is ‘nice’.
The Elf on the Shelf is another Holiday tradition that tells our children that love is conditional and who they are is conditional. Why don’t we change the narrative? Instead of the elf spying on kids to see if they are ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’, why can’t we just say this? “The Elf is a fun imaginary visitor who pops up during the Holidays. We can play peekaboo with him. He is also a feeling just like Santa. The feeling of fun, of play… do you know that feeling?”
By keeping it simple, by bringing love, play and that indefinable sense of wonder into the season, you are preserving much more than the beauty of the holidays. You are giving them something no one can rob them of: that everything amazing in the world comes from within them; it comes from feelings.