I accidentally crushed a classmate’s dream when I was in first grade.
My memory is hazy, (we’re talking over twenty years ago, bare with me). I can only assume that the context was that we were coming up on the holidays and we must have been doing some sort of classroom activity oriented towards Christmas.
One of my classmates and I were talking and she was talking about how excited she was for Christmas. Understandable, as I was always a big Christmas person myself. But somewhere in the conversation, she mentioned something that threw me off completely:
“I’m pretty sure Santa’s gonna get me this! What are you asking Santa for?”
Here’s the thing. I was a kid that wasn’t raised with the belief that Santa Claus is a real, living human being. In my mind, he was as ‘real’ as Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, Cupid, the Easter Bunny, etc. Santa was presented to me as “Oh, another Christmas thing! It’s just for fun!” What I didn’t realize is that not everyone felt this way. In fact, many kids my age truly believed that Santa Claus was not only 100% real but he was really the person giving them all their presents. Still confused, I responded:
“I get my presents from my mom and daddy. My aunts and uncles give me presents too.”
She returned the confused expression. It was as if she never entertained the idea that her parents — the people who literally give her food, water, clothes, etc. — aren’t also the ones giving her the Christmas presents.
I won’t dive into the entire conversation but — long story short — I looked this girl dead in her face and told her Santa Clause is not real. She proceeded to cry and I continued being confused.
A Santa-Free Christmas Upbringing
I never thought it strange that my parents didn’t put emphasis on Santa Claus when I was growing up. It’s just not what we did. But these days I’m seeing that a lot of people view not allowing your kids to believe in Santa as somehow “robbing them of imagination and wonder”.
Listen, Christmas was — and still is — my favorite holiday. It was the holiday I looked forward to the most! I have great memories of Dad blasting Christmas albums, sweet-smelling candles, memorizing lines for the Christmas program at church, and exchanging gifts with the entire family at my grandma’s house.
However, there were still people like my classmate who had Christmas with Santa Claus in the forefront. They did everything from sending letters to Santa to leaving cookies and milk out for him on Christmas Eve. Truthfully, I just thought that was something White people in movies made up and not actual common practices.
Honestly, I’m not sure why Santa wasn't heavily emphasized with me and my older sister. My parents would even keep their bedroom door closed and put up a little sign that said “Elves at Work” when they were wrapping our Christmas presents. All of our presents were marked “from Mom & Dad” and never “from Santa”. His existence was never really entertained at all. In fact, my mom probably references Santa way more now than when I was a kid. I’m damn near 30, but I honestly find it adorable that she bugs me to give her my Christmas list so she can “pass it on to Santa”.
The Santa Claus Game is a Costly Game
When I brought up this subject matter to a few friends over social media, they were able to give me an interesting perspective on the matter of Santa Claus.
The old narrative is that Santa Claus only gives presents to good little boys and girls. Bad little boys and girls don’t get lumps of coal or just nothing at all. So I guess we can say that Christmas presents are somehow supposed to be an incentive for kids to be on their best behavior.
But there’s a scenario not taken into account: Two kids want the same expensive toy for Christmas. Let’s say that they are both good kids. However, one kid got their expensive gift ‘from Santa’ and the other didn’t. When you’re an adult, you understand that the parents of one child could afford the gift and the parents of the other child could not. But how do you explain to the child who’s family isn’t well off? Their only conclusion is that they either weren’t good enough or Santa just completely forgot about them.
One of my friends is a former educator. Some of her elementary students were getting iPhones for Christmas, but one of her students simply wanted Santa to turn the water back on in their house. Other kids were suited up in their new clothes and expensive electronics but…somehow requesting the water to be turned back on was too much?
If I was a parent in that situation, I wouldn’t blame them for not making a big deal about Santa. It’s very possible that families aren’t trying to simply ‘take credit’ for the gifts, but they simply don’t have the means to play the Santa Claus game with their kids. I’d much rather my kid understand that them not getting a certain toy or electronic had nothing to do with them as a person and that they weren’t “forgotten”. The better choice just seems to be making them understand that they’re trying to win the approval of someone who doesn’t even exist.
Are we Robbing Kids of “Christmas Wonder” by Keeping it Real?
As someone who grew up with Santa-free Christmas, I’m going to say no.
I get wanting the kids to have a sense of imagination and wonder, but I do want people to understand that this kind of thing doesn’t stop at Santa Claus. Maybe I wasn’t a Santa-believing first grader, but I was still childish and innocent in my own way. When my dad would leave the house at night to go to work, I’d ask him where he was going and he’d reply “To the moon!” And I believed that (but somehow the concept of Santa was just too unrealistic — go figure).
While I don’t know for sure why my parents didn’t encourage more belief in Santa, I’m assuming that they just didn’t view it to be very important. While we did indulge in the more commercialized Christmas traditions, we were still a Christian household. I’m assuming that, more than anything, they wanted to make sure my sister and I understood the impact Christmas has on the spiritual level. With the help of our parents(and that fire Kirk Franklin Christmas album), we reached the understanding of Jesus being the reason for the season.
Some of my friends with small kids are starting to find themselves in the predicament of figuring out whether or not it is appropriate to emphasize Santa Claus. Some of them are opting to just not bring it up, but answer their questions that may come up with honesty. I can only imagine my friend’s daughter’s confusion when someone comes up and asks her what she’s asking Santa for Christmas. Others are opting more of a ‘symbolism’ approach; that Santa may not be a real person but his story speaks the tale of giving and loving those around you, thus we give each other gifts to celebrate. Then another friend suggested that Santa could be in the picture, but just no the forefront. Kids would receive stocking stuffers from Santa (little toy cars, candy, etc.) whereas the bigger gifts can be from the parents. And then “for fun” we give gifts to our friends and family.
Bringing up Santa isn’t something I’ve ever thought about doing with my future kids. At this point, I just don’t find it necessary. Besides, I like the idea of my kids learning how to give and how to be grateful to their loved ones, rather than some random 1000-year-old man who breaks into houses. And I’m certainly not going to judge families that choose to push that narrative for their own kids. But — just so we don’t make history repeat itself— I’ll at least tell my kidsto keep that info about Santa Claus being make-believe to themselves.