Starting Out: Misgivings
I used to feel torn about whether to bring the magic of Santa Claus into our family. After all, I’d committed to raising our children Christian. I worried that the focus on Santa and gifts at Christmas detracted from the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
As an atheist myself, I found it hard to fathom setting up two fantastical myths for the kids to believe in, only to ask them to stop believing one when they were old enough. Santa and God, to my mind, were both white guys with beards who judged the goodness and badness of our behaviour and intentions, one rewarding us with gifts or coal, the other with Heaven or Hell. It didn’t make sense to me that my kids would continue to believe in God when they inevitably would discover that Santa was a communal practical joke.
I raised my concerns with my husband, who was Catholic and the reason we were raising our daughters Christian. He poopooed my concerns. After all, he’d figured out that Santa wasn’t real and his religious faith was none the worse for it. Santa and God were nothing alike. I halfheartedly agreed to “do Santa.”
As with many of the joys of the world, my twin daughters eventually won me over.
At age 2.5, J and M were rather suspicious of this strange man who could break into our house at will on Christmas Eve. Here’s what I wrote about that Christmas:
M and J weren’t too sure about Santa Claus. J declared rather early in December that she didn’t want Santa coming to her house. In fact, when we were discussing the girls’ need for new pajamas, [Daddy] suggested that Santa might bring us some. J’s response: “No, Mama Daddy buy it, please.” On Christmas Eve, J finally gave into the idea of presents and begrudgingly said that Santa could visit. M suddenly decided that she no longer wanted Santa around. By bedtime Christmas Eve, though, the idea of setting out muffins and milk for Santa was too exciting to skip. (I was barred from any additional cookie baking, so I, I mean he, got mincemeat mini-muffins with his milk.)
Santa brought the girls two movies (Mary Poppins and a Backyardigans DVD) and the ultimate gift: a bicycle each. Given what a hit the bikes were, I figured that Santa was now a beloved addition to our family.
Not so. This morning, when M couldn’t find one of her dolls, J’s immediate suggestion was that Santa had taken it. We found the doll under M’s covers, but J still considers Santa to be a highly suspicious character.
Children Bring Magic
Every Christmas, my twin daughters, M and J, would receive gifts from both Mommy and Daddy and Santa. We didn’t bother with having Santa have his own wrapping paper or gift tags. The kids loved Christmas and that’s what mattered.
When the girls were about 4, I think, they figured out what was going on. Mommy and Daddy were actually Santa. I confessed, but asked the girls to remember that Santa was the idea of generosity at Christmas. They needed to play Santa too, and keep quiet about their discovery so that their friends could continue to believe in Santa. They did pretty well, but my friend Amanda told me that J had tried to burst her son’s bubble. We had quite the talk.
Keeping Santa Real
Now that I have marching orders from my girls to keep Santa real, I go at it with full gusto.
It seems to be working. The other day, now 7-year-old M told me, “Santa brought us presents even the year we didn’t believe in him. I think it’s because Grammy and Grampy are personal friends.”
It’s all in the details. My daughters are bright and want to believe. Together, we’ve come up with some pretty good rationalizations of Santa.
- Santa’s gifts are the goody bags from Jesus’ birthday party.
- Santa doesn’t use his own stationery or gift wrap. His sleigh is intended for gifts only. He uses whatever supplies are provided at the host home.
- For homes that lack fireplaces and chimneys, Santa has a skeleton key that works only on Christmas Eve. He cannot let himself in any other day, and non-Santa entities can’t make the key work.
- For divorced families in which kids celebrate Christmas twice, once on Christmas Day and once on another arbitrary date, Santa can make a special visit on a date other than Christmas Eve. He came to our house on December 14 and will be showing up to Grammy and Grampy’s house again on Christmas Eve. To make this work, the parent celebrating the non-traditional Christmas date must write to Santa.
There’s also some behind-the-scenes work I have to do, as well as the occasion for quick thinking.
- Santa’s correspondence, whether in the kids’ school journals, is consistently in the same ink (brown permanent marker at our house) and in all caps to disguise my handwriting.
- I make note of at least one toy, book or movie that each child has requested when we’re out and about that I’ve had to deny because of time or budgetary constraints. I make sure that Santa brings one of those things to each child.
- I do my Christmas shopping online, since there’s no way for me to sneak out to the store without the kids. I don’t have anyone else to watch them without hiring a sitter or arranging a playdate. I suppose I could skip out during work, but my leave hours are rather limited after all the time I take off to attend school events and other extracurriculars.
- I buy myself a Christmas gift from Santa. This year I/he got myself an Otterbox cover for my iPad. It was something I wanted, needed and saved for, but I could wait a few days to open it alongside the girls’ Christmas gifts.
- I fill my own stocking. I got myself a book of crosswords from the dollar store, a candy bar and two Christmas DVDs the kids have been dying to see. They don’t need to know that the DVDs are really for them. They get joy from the magic of Mommy getting her own “surprises”.
- I found a great trampoline for $200 off in October or November and bought it as Santa’s gift to the kids. I didn’t have a great place to hide the massive box, so I just stored it in the garage with the label side turned out of view. After over a month of it hiding in plain sight, M noticed it on December 14, the day before we were to celebrate Christmas. I thought very fast. Santa, I told her, had asked me store it for him because it was taking up too much room in his sleigh. He would come by and put it under the tree that night. J was shocked. “Did you see him?!” No, I told her, he’d just left a note.
- On the subject of hiding gifts, your car trunk is a great place if you have kids who search for hidden presents. Their own closets are also remarkably effective hiding places.
Do your kids believe in Santa? What are your tricks to keeping the magic alive?
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.