My son doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. There. I said it. I blame myself and husband J: we never went out of our way to get him excited about Santa Claus. There were no presents mysteriously from some guy he’d never met, no going to Santa Claus to sit in his lap and list off what he’d like, no questions about reindeer.
Part of me feels a little bad, that I’ve robbed him of an important moment in childhood. But another part of me thinks “I’m sure children have survived without really believing in Santa Claus.”
Don’t misunderstand – son J loves Christmas. He loves decorating the house and the tree, making and wrapping gifts. He loves how excited I get about whatever I’m getting his dad for a gift that year(and I swear him to silence, which he manages quite well I’d say). This year he’s been telling me that Christmas isn’t about getting presents – which is not to say he won’t be completely excited about them, as he is human after all. We’ve made a point of telling him that it’s everyone’s job to “be Santa and be good to other people” – and that doesn’t just mean one day of the year. He’s been admonished (ok, threatened) to NOT tell the kids on the court that Santa Claus isn’t real. (When the girl across the street asked him why he didn’t have an “Elf on the Shelf” because, oh and I’m quoting here, “He’s a real Elf” you should have SEEN the eye roll). He buys in to the Santa is real because we’ve flat out told him that Saint Nicholas was real. Unfortunately, as such he has a really hard time with people who dress up as Santa.
C. K. Chesterton once said
“Fairytales don’t tell children that dragons exist; children already know that dragons exist. Fairytales tell children that dragons can be killed.”
I’m beginning to wonder if that isn’t why believing in Santa Claus is important – not that there’s some random guy in a red suit who gives you everything your selfish little heart desires, but rather that there’s some benevolent force in the world with an outcome that you can actually see and feel. Faith is important, even if it isn’t in god or a religious structure. I, for instance, have close to zero faith in humanity, yet I’m still convinced that there are some people who will step up and do the right thing. When I get to actually see it in action (see: Pope Francis) I’m delighted rather than bitter that it’s rare.
Santa Claus, and Christmas for that matter, also bring up the matter of faith. The other kids he plays with in the court are Catholic. Very, very Catholic. He is not. He is very, very not. Have I mentioned that his father is atheist? Not in the “you are stupid for believing in a God” way, but in the quasi-Buddhist “take what you need and leave the rest” way. A 7 year old believes in absolutes: you are right and I am wrong or vice versa. Teaching a 7 year old to live and let live is hard. For fuck’s sake there are 50+ year-olds who can’t get that lesson (lookin’ at you Ann Coulter). But rather than at a later age when he might understand it more we now have to explain that he doesn’t have to believe what the other kids believe, that he doesn’t have to believe what his parents (who disagree on the nature of God) believe, and that whatever he believes or doesn’t believe is his right (as set down by the Bill of Rights, by the way).
Yeah, it would be nice to have this conversation later in life, but doing things the easy way has never been son j’s style. The holidays stress j out because he thinks about the things that a lot of other kids take for granted. All I can do is talk to him about all of the good in the world and know that when he finally finds his faith it will have been earned.