I didn’t realize there was a Santa controversy until I became a mother, and then every parenting board I visited during the months of November and December were chock-full of debate over whether you should “do Santa” with your kids.
On one side were people for whom finding out the truth felt like the ultimate betrayal from their parents, or who didn’t want to perpetuate the commercialism of a sacred day, or who did not agree with using Santa as a threat or bribe to modify the behavior of children.
On the other side were those who had fond memories of Santa, who chose to focus on the magic of the season and the innocence of childhood, and who embraced Santa with enthusiasm.
You can probably already guess that we’re in the second camp. I grew up believing in Santa, and when I was told (by a classmate in second grade) that Santa wasn’t real, I went home and told my mom. She told me to ask my CCD teacher that Sunday.
I was rewarded with the story of St. Nicholas, the orphan who gave his inheritance to the needy. St. Nicholas’s day is December 6th, and his legend – passed along like a game of generational telephone – merged with myth from religions all over the world to become the Santa Claus we know and love today.
Our rough plan is this: teach the boys about the origins of Santa before they’re old enough to question the reality of the magic.
Young children’s hearts and minds are so open that fairies, elves, gnomes, magic, and Santa aren’t things they need proven. Their faith is reinforced by the wonder that they see every day: if a flower unfolds for a bee, why not for a fairy? If they help me create gifts for strangers, why wouldn’t someone (Santa) with helpers (Elves) be making gifts for them?
And there’s the gist of it — we are building charity into the season. While they are very small, it will be simple: baked goods for the local fire fighters and policemen, handmade gifts for friends and family, and the simple acts of kindness we strive to weave through our lives every day. Luckily, there are many, many cultures who celebrate Santa in some form or fashion and we will use that to teach them about the world and the magic of other cultures.
As they get older and the idea of giving is easier for them to understand, I’ll let them pick gifts from charitable catalogues like Heifer International. We’ll put together gift bags for foster children or the children who spend their holidays in hospital wards. We’ll call it “Playing Santa” and it will just be one more imaginative role they take on in their play.
Last year a friend and I made Advent Calendars with an activity a day. Some are simple, like bake cookies, or have a Holiday Movie Night, and some are in the spirit of giving: take cookies to the firehouse, leave the mail carrier a surprise, etc.
Now you wonder – what do we do when our older son discovers the truth? We’ll tell him – firstly – not to spoil the magic for his brother. And then we’ll re-iterate that while the Santa who comes down the chimney is actually Mom and Dad (and the chimney remains empty), the spirit behind the season of giving was a real-life human being who put others before himself. Then we’ll invite him to our side of the tradition and allow him to plan and stuff stockings. (Everyone gets stockings in our house – even Mom and Dad.) Winter is a season full of celebrations: the light returns, the year renews, and everyone has a little magic in their hearts.