Sweet Boy sat on Santa's lap in the mall on Friday. For the first time. Willingly. And with a smile on his face. This is pretty big, when we consider that when he was 1 he screamed bloody murder at the sight of Santa, and when he was 2, he stepped just close enough to snatch the candy cane from Santa's hand then run back between my legs. (Even bigger is the sad fact that I missed his first chat with Santa because I was standing in line at Starbucks, waiting for my SIL's fancy coffee concoction while she wandered over and introduced my child to Santa without either of his parents nearby. But I probably shouldn't go there...at least I have the souvenir photo, right?)
This may be the first year that Sweet Boy is truly aware of Santa. He still hasn't quite grasped the whole Santa-brings-me-toys concept yet -- which is great, don't get me wrong -- and every time we ask him what he wants from Santa, he tells us something different. (And he told Santa on Friday that he wants Spiderman stuff. I have never heard him mention Spiderman. Ever. Go figure.) I know this is the year when the Santa tradition will take root, so we need to play it close. For instance, this week Mommy will help Sweet Boy write his letter to Santa, and we will list three things that he would like. However, we're going to try to make it clear that ASKING for three things doesn't necessarily mean he will RECEIVE all three things. Santa always brings at least one present, and other presents come from Mommy and Daddy and all our family members. Sometimes Santa may bring a surprise or two, also.
You hear and read so much about the Santa Myth and how damaging it is for children. In fact, I have a friend who is a pastor and psychologist/counselor, and she is adamant that enforcing a child's belief in Santa Claus is psychologically AND spiritually damaging, that it erodes their trust in their parents, leads to a lifetime of materialism and attachment issues, etc. Heavy, right? So while I do want to follow some Santa traditions, I'd like to avoid, if at all possible, damaging my son's trust, priorities, or psyche. I don't intend to lie to him when the day comes that he asks me about Santa, but for now, I don't see any harm in giving him something to get excited about.
I remember exactly the day that I realized that Santa wasn't a real live human who squeezed down the chimney on Christmas Eve. And I remember exactly what my mom told me when I asked her about Santa:
Santa is the spirit of Christmas---the joy of giving to others, the love of your family around you, the happiness you feel during the season. Above all, Santa is generous and sees the good in all people. As long as you believe in this spirit, then yes, Santa Claus is real.
I was 6 years old when I started reciting "Santa is the spirit of Christmas" because I really didn't want to let go of the magic. And every year I watch my own father, now age 59, turn into a living breathing Santa Claus right around this time -- he still believes in the magic, and because of him, his adult children all believe too.
Of course this "spirit of Christmas" thing is a pretty abstract concept for a three-year-old, so we'll probably go with the "Santa brings you presents" approach this year. We won't dwell on the reward bit of the lore, though, because I don't think Santa Claus should be used as a disciplinary tactic. I'm thinking the trick will be laying the right foundation this year so that Sweet Boy understands that while Santa brings him presents, Santa is not the be-all and end-all of Christmas. I want to be sure that Sweet Boy understands that there's a lot more to Christmas than just asking for and receiving toys. I will certainly not get all intellectual about it with him -- and I will never, ever tell my child that people who believe in Santa Claus are stupid or gullible. But I want to be sure that in a few years, when he realizes that Santa is not a jolly old elf dressed all in red who rides through the sky behind a team of reindeer that there is still magic in Christmas, that there is still joy in generosity -- and that there will still be gifts for him under the tree Christmas morning.
However, right this minute, I'm not exactly certain how to strike that balance, especially when everyone around him is talking about Santa -- school, TV, radio, relatives -- "What do you want from Santa Claus?" is the question of the month. How do you present and explain Santa Claus to your kids without heaping too many untruths on them? All suggestions and family traditions are welcome!