I was raised on a healthy diet of the Easter Bunny, Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the rest of the gang, and I would say that am I a moderately well-adjusted person who doesn’t have any ill-will towards my parents for allowing me to believe in Santa until I was twelve. Yes, twelve. One year shy of being a teen. (Okay, there may be a twinge of bitterness there.)
Actually, I have some fond childhood memories of waiting for these mystical figures to arrive. Huddling with my sisters at the top of the stairs to see what Santa had shimmied down the chimney to bring us, finding half nibbled carrots in the yard that were remnants of the Easter Bunny’s snack—these are the things that happy childhoods are made of. Right?
Well, not necessarily. Because Santa and the rest aren’t real, so you have to lie to your kids in order for them to “believe” in their existence.
On one hand, I don’t want to lie to my kid. But am I robbing her of some of the magic of childhood by depriving her of these culturally-accepted lies? Is she going to feel left out when her friends and cousins are anxiously awaiting Santa’s triumphant annual return? Are my other family members going to be crushed or upset if/when Alexandra fills their kids in on the truth?
Part of the trouble is that holiday characters aren’t just characters. They are laden with meaning and power. Holiday magical figures have become some of the most tried and true tools of parental manipulation, and every commercial outfit in the nation capitalizes on parents’ willingness to manipulate and lie to their children. The racket is such a part of our cultural consciousness, it’s hard to tell which came first: the lie or the mass marketing.
If you don’t believe that holiday heroes like Santa are used to manipulate, consider the following song lyrics: “You better watch out/ You better not cry/ You better not pout/ I’m telling you why/ Santa Claus is coming to town.” Those words are against everything I believe in: hiding feelings, threats, bribes, manipulation, lying. It’s like the ultimate anti-gentle discipline message rolled into a mildly pleasing Barry Manilow diddy.
Jan Hunt argues that there could be a healthy middle ground between full-blown lying to your kids and abstaining from holiday magic altogether. She suggests telling children about magical figures in the context of the fictional world. “If we keep the magic fantasy, but hold it within the borders of the world of fiction and storytelling, we can foster imagination and delight today without worrying about the questions we will surely be asked tomorrow.” Further, Hunt recommends the book The Santa Story: Giving Your Children A Santa They Will Never Outgrow by A. Trahan, which is available from The Natural Child Project store.
How do you and yours handle holiday magical characters?
Mary Michael Pontzer found her way to natural and attachment parenting by trusting her heart and instincts. As a first-time mama, she practices breastfeeding, babywearing, cosleeping, gentle discipline, and she is learning all she can about unschooling and organic gardening, among other things. She is an educator by trade and currently teaches English part-time at a community college. When she isn’t spending time with her husband, Luke, and daughter, Alexandra, she is (in theory) working on her dissertation for a PhD in education. Mary blogs at The Accidental Natural Mama.
This article has been adapted from a previous version published at The Accidental Natural Mama.