Mikko waffles between believing in Santa (because how could the jolly old elf not be real when his image and story are everywhere in this culture?) and not (because we've told him the truth when he asks us), but this idea to be a Santa doesn't depend on belief one way or the other, cutting through (or leaving aside) the debate over which holiday-parenting path is better.
We were downtown when we spotted one of those Christmas trees with tags suggesting gifts for low-income families. Sam pulled a couple, one for a baby and one for a four-year-old, just like our kids, and we went shopping as a family.
Mikko flipped out at first. How could we buy such cool presents and not give them to our own child? (The preschooler's request was for a superhero-with-motorcycle action figure, and the baby's parents wanted some sweet books.) I have to admit, I questioned Sam's wisdom at pulling a preschooler's tag instead of, say, a 15-year-old's, where there would have been less envy overlap. (The baby's other request was for diapers, for instance, which went unremarked.)
Reminding Mikko he was getting heaps of presents from his grandparents was not palliative. Reminding him he could save up his allowance to buy a motorcycle toy for himself did no good. Telling him the boy in question did not have stacks of presents coming his way — that this might, in fact, be his only present — didn't quell the complaints.
Mikko came up with suggestions: He would give his old, unwanted toys to the boy instead! We could buy them both the same thing! (Frankly, we don't usually spend that much on any one toy for our kids, and it wasn't a toy we were keen on — no objections to it in theory, just not something we would have chosen for Mikko.)
Sam then figured out what would be the magic formula. We're going to be Santa to these kids, he told Mikko. We're going to buy them some things, not because they need them, not because they deserve them, but just to be nice. We're going to wrap them up and deliver them (back to the tree), just like Santa would do. We're going to do the same with other people in our life we love — buy them things we think they will like, whether they do the same for us or not, wrap them up, and send them off. We are their Santas.
This took a full day to sink in, and I thought it hadn't.
The next afternoon, I was sitting on the bed when Mikko tromped industriously up the stairs, a roll of wrapping paper under his arm. "We're going to be Santa, Mama," he announced to me. "I'll get the presents to wrap." And off he went to find the boys' presents and bring them over for wrapping.
It did take some further explaining to Mikko that we wouldn't be going down any chimneys. He also requested a sleigh and that we find a pet store so we could buy our reindeer, and we said that wouldn't be necessary. He does love being sneaky about his Santa-hood and keeping secrets … except for the keeping them part.
But, details aside, the basic premise stuck with our preschooler: Santa's a cool guy who gives people presents. We can be (a) Santa, too.
If you're not wholly averse to the Santa legend and you live in North America or somewhere similar, you can be pretty sure your kids will have absorbed enough of the Santa mythology to need little coaching on what a Santa represents. If it feels better to you, you might point to the historical Saint Nicholas instead, whose feast our family celebrates with a fun nighttime surprise of presents-in-boots and who has stories attached to his name of giving anonymous gifts to the needy.
I have to say, I've been a little saddened this year as I hear the lyrics of popular songs talking about Santa not wanting kids to cry (way to discourage emotions), consider the popularity of naughtiness-and-niceness reporting as done by magical elves on shelves, and just in general take in the aspects of Santa-as-judge. I prefer Santa-as-giver, and I love entering into that spirit with my children.
How are you and your kids being Santas this year?
a Very Merry Christmas to you and yours!
I'm writing about being a Santa to bloggers over at LaurenWayne.com today. Come read my tips on how to support the writers you love — most of the ideas don't cost you anything, and all of them will warm the heart of the bloggers in your life. In that spirit, thank YOU for all you've done to support me as a blogger — I appreciate it!