Recently, we got an email from our son’s first grade teacher. He had announced, rather loudly, to his friends that Santa wasn’t real. She was asking us to help him keep that revelation to himself.
The truth of the matter is that my wife and I decided long before any of our children were old enough to care that we would not do “the Santa thing.” We, of course, do not avoid Santa, and we have plenty of pictures of our kids on Santa’s knee. We just don’t put out any presents marked “from Santa,” and we never tell them that if they are bad Santa won’t bring presents. Presents come from mom & dad, grandparents, and others who love them deeply no matter what.
We decided this because, honestly, our kids aren’t dumb. Most kids, in fact, are much brighter than we think. We didn’t see how we could say to them on one hand, a magical being brings presents to all the good children, while on the other hand, we donate each year to programs like toys-for-tots and the like.
I could hear the question in my mind, “Why doesn’t Santa bring presents to the poor kids? Were they bad?”
Santa is a luxury of communities that already have more than they need. Communities where there is no doubt that something will be under the tree. He is also an invention of those same communities. For evidence, look no further than the fact that Santa as we know him, with the red outfit and long white beard, didn’t really exist as a consistent image until Coca-cola started to use it in holiday advertising (Read more). Santa was invented to sell us things.
Across the globe, 1 in 8 lack access to clean water. Only 8% own a car. Better than half live on less than $2.50 a day. In truth, most children won’t get anything for Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanza/Birthdays/whatever. And yes, some of those children are here in our own country, state, and city.
It is great that organizations work to bring some joy to kids on Christmas by providing presents that they otherwise would not receive. All kids have the right to feel normal, to return to school like all the rest and talk about the great things they got.
Those same kids also need to know, as my kids know, that those presents are there because someone cares about them. They are there because someone was thinking of them. They are there because their parents loved them enough to set aside pride and ask for help. They are there because their community cared enough to give.
There is plenty of magic in Christmas without inventing it. I’m the first to admit that my position isn’t a popular one, nor do I expect anyone to follow suit. But for me, Christmas is about celebrating Emmanuel, which means God with us. It’s a day to be celebrated with family and friends that reminds us that we are not, ever, alone. Which is the greatest gift of Christmas.