I didn’t grow up believing in Santa Claus. We had presents and eggnog and matching pajamas, the annual Christmas Eve movie and my dad’s famous homemade French toast with maple pecan syrup for breakfast on December 25th. But one notably missing piece of the traditional American household holiday extravaganza in my house growing up was a jolly man in a red suit popping down the chimney to deliver our gifts. No “naughty or nice” list, no plate of cookies as a midnight snack, no carrots for imaginary reindeer.
But Christmas was still magical to me. I didn’t need a myth to make the holiday special, and I’ve never felt like I missed out on anything by not having Santa as a kid.
My husband did grow up believing in Santa. They had similar traditions with the addition of St. Nick. He’s a (mostly) well-adjusted adult now. And while he doesn’t remember when he stopped believing, he reports no bitterness for his parents or the world at large for having duped him for a handful of Christmases when he was little.
In short, we both arrived at adulthood with fond memories of Christmas because our parents made it special for us — Santa or not.
When we had our son towards the end of summer 2015, we had to make a choice pretty soon after about the holiday season. We’re both Christians, so it was a no-brainer for us that Christmas would center on Christ. But what about Santa? I was pretty against the idea, not because I have no joy in my heart but because it was such a foreign concept.
Lie to my kid? Like, on purpose and for no other reason than to perpetuate a weird myth that we’ll then have to destroy when he’s older? My husband actually agreed, though he wasn’t quite as adamant about it. He also didn’t see the point in this particular illusion, agreeing that we’d still make the holidays special, sans Father Christmas. There would be no letters to Santa, no surprises about who brought the gifts, and certainly no mischievous shelf-based elves running wild at night. Not in our house.
Our plan worked. None the wiser, our kiddo got all the festiveness of the season without having to sit in a stranger’s lap at the mall for a photo. He knows why we celebrate the season in the first place and knows where his presents come from. We watch all the movies — yep, even The Santa Clause, which is somewhat ironically one of my favorites — and do all the family things and even sit down and have French toast on the 25th, just like I did when I was a kid. Everything has gone according to plan.
And then my six-year-old asked me in the car the other day if we could pretend that Santa is real this year.
We had been talking about the upcoming holidays, and it occurred to me that his classmates would, in all likelihood, largely come from families that do the whole Santa thing. And while I don’t like encouraging my kid to lie for the sake of lying, I’m also not a terrible person. So I was explaining to him that some kids like to believe in Santa and that even though he, my son, knows Santa’s not real, it’s still a good idea to let other kids who like to pretend keep pretending. And that’s when he asked me if we could do Santa this year.
So, long story short, we’re doing Santa this year.
Sure, my kid knows Santa isn’t real. He knows he’s a character that people like to pretend is real, and he understands that it will be a game we’re playing this December. But he wants to create his own fun this holiday season, and we’re not about to stand in the way of it.
Life looks different as you get older, and that’s true at every age. It’s true when you’re six and you start kindergarten and your whole schedule changes drastically, and it’s true when you’re 35 and completely unsure about what could possibly be next around the riverbend. If we need a little extra magic this year from a bearded man in a red jumpsuit shimmying down the chimney, why not?
See, parenting doesn’t come with a manual. I had a lot of nevers and nopes and absolutelys when I started on this road six-plus years ago. And I quickly learned that “never say never” isn’t just a trite expression. It’s the unofficial mantra for moms and dads everywhere. We can set rules and boundaries and have conviction in what we’re doing. But we also need to adjust when it’s needed, play things by ear, and be willing to change course, even if it’s just for a little while. Our kids aren’t the only ones who are learning.
So this year, we’re doing Santa. We’ll leave out a plate of cookies and maybe a carrot for the reindeer. My husband and I will slip a couple “from Santa” gifts into his stocking. And maybe we’ll read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas for the first time and dream about what the North Pole looks like.