I am by and large a “live and let live” kind of parent. You do what works for you, Moms. But today I’m just feeling fed up with the whole Santa game and the Santa-infused nonsense this time of year brings. For some reason it seems like each year it’s getting more and more complicated to try and keep up the Santa rouse. More is expected of parents as far as elaborate “storytelling” (I’m looking at you, Elf on the Shelf), more money is shelled out, more awkward conversations happening in the homes of nonbelievers as we try and prep our kids for how to walk the weird line of not lying to their friends while also not giving it away.
This year the newest trend seems to be “apology letters” from Santa. I’m not joking. Can’t find the exact toy your child requested? Obviously you can’t just tell them that, you now need to create a fictional response from Santa to appease your child. As much as that level of parental lying and child entitlement irritates me, I also understand it. How else to you explain to your kid that they weren’t “good enough” to get what they asked for? What kind of crushing blow is it to wake up Christmas morning and feel like not only did you not get the toy you were hoping for, but it’s your own fault for not being a good enough kid. No wonder parents are creating these apology notes, because what is the other alternative? Letting your kid believe if they would have just made their bed a few extra mornings maybe then the Elf would have told Santa that you were good enough for a Hatchimal?
The parents with money (but no Hatchimal) are learning what parents who financially struggle have always known– Santa can sure seem like a jerk. When you tell your kids they are rewarded based on their behavior, can we be surprised when kids wonder why wealthy kids are always morally superior to poor kids? What lessons are we reinforcing about privilege and entitlement when certain kids continue to get blessed and others continue to get the lump of coal in spite of their best efforts at good behavior?
I have watched parents in poverty neglect other financial obligations just to put together a Christmas their kids could be happy about because they didn’t want their children to feel like they were bad kids. This is what the current ideation of the Santa mythology has lead us into. It is less about a benevolent stranger helping those in need (as St. Nicholas did) and is more about protecting our kids from understanding the financial realities of the real world. Maybe that seems magical to you, but to me it feels like one more way Santa makes us dishonest with our children.
When Santa isn’t your child’s back-up plan, you get to have actual conversations about money management. You get to say things like, “You know what, Honey? Mommy can’t buy you that toy. It’s too expensive. Let’s talk about some options that are in our budget this year.” Does this take away some of the magic of Christmas? I don’t know because my Christmases have always seemed plenty magical without a Santa-sized budget. But taking that “magic” out of the equation does take away our ability to lie to our kids or to ourselves about not just Santa, but about our financial situation. Santa doesn’t become The Giant Credit Card in the Sky to our children as they move from the years of thinking Santa will always come through to the years of thinking because it’s the holidays, they “deserve” whatever thing they actually can’t afford. And why are we robbing our kids of the ability to be grateful to the parents who have worked so hard to provide these gifts to them? If these things are awarded to them based on their good behavior, then there’s no reason for them to be grateful at all. This is the payment they receive for services rendered.
If you love Santa and your kids love Santa and you make that work with your conscience, that is certainly an option for you. But if you want off the increasingly demanding Santa Coaster of spending and Pinterest and elaborate storytelling, I’m over here offering you a hand. Maybe don’t write that apology note for the gift you couldn’t find, just decide this is the year you take back Christmas. Let’s simplify our holidays before someone invents a life-sized Reindeer you have to move through your house and pretend to feed (and clean up after) so that it can transport the Elf who reports to Santa who you then have to make cookies for. Christmas is beautiful and magical and sacred (and complicated) enough without the added Santa stress. Call me a Scrooge. I’m okay with that. And you won’t even need to write me an apology letter.