My wife and I are struggling with what to do about Santa. Our oldest son, Aaron, will be three years old this Christmas, making this the first year he’ll be able to start to understand the holiday.
My wife has many fond memories of a variety of family Christmas traditions, including many that involve Santa. She loved the mystery of leaving out cookies and milk for Santa, the footprints coming from the fireplace, and gifts appearing Christmas morning. She also remembers when she started to put things together: “Why are there presents in the closet with Santa’s special wrapping paper?” “Why does Santa’s writing look so familiar?” Even those are fond memories for her, because she was able to participate in the fun of it.
I don’t have as many memories, though I do remember getting gifts from Santa. I knew from a very early age that “Santa” was really just my parents – his writing did look suspiciously like their handwriting! I also have a vague recollection of my parents telling me that the lights from an airplane overhead on Christmas Eve were really Santa out delivering presents. I’m very logical and literal, so this never made sense to me, and I don’t remember ever enjoying Santa as much as my wife does.
According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality inventory that categorizes individuals into 16 “types” based on four preferences, I’m an ISTJ and my wife is an ENFP. Yep, that’s right – we’re exact opposites. Needless to say, this can make for some interesting discussions.
It’s relevant here because the T in my ISTJ is for “thinking,” and the F in her ENFP is for “feeling." As I noted before, I’m very literal, and so the thought of making up a story to tell my son about this character named “Santa” makes me very uncomfortable. My wife is very much more on the “feeling” side of things, and she doesn’t see it as an issue. She loves those memories she has, and doesn’t view it as a fabrication at all. To her, it’s more about the wonder and mystery behind the jolly old elf from the North Pole. She remembers finding out, but doesn’t remember it as breaking any trust barriers with her parents.
I posed the question of Santa to my Facebook friends, and it’s one of the few things I’ve done there that’s actually generated some discussion. The suggestions shared were across the board, which made me feel much better that I wasn’t the only one with misgivings. Many of our friends are at the same point in their lives with young children, and we’re struggling with same issues. Some have decided to leave Santa out of the gift-giving process altogether, while our neighbor’s eldest son (age 4) has dubbed him “The Christmas Guy,” which is now being adopted by his younger siblings. I also have friends with older children who have enjoyed the myth, and still to this day do not admit that Santa isn’t real – even though everyone knows he isn’t. Just knowing that there really isn’t a “right” way to handle the issue was very comforting to me.
My primary concern going into this discussion was trust. I want my sons to trust what I say. I want them to believe in science and fact. I want them to look at the world critically, and to question and verify information they’re given. On the other hand, I wonder if my own reliance on facts detracts from the wonder that others can enjoy by suspending their disbelief – something very difficult for me. Am I limiting the ways my sons will be able to experience the world? By making everything literal, am I denying them some opportunities? Will their lives be less fulfilling if everything has to be taken at face value?
Interestingly, the Facebook discussion was more helpful than I expected. I don’t know anyone who has experienced that break in trust from finding out Santa isn’t a real person, but I’d read about a few while researching the question online. What I came to realize and believe is that those situations where trust was broken and children were scarred for life were likely related to other trust issues within the family. The more I think about it, the more I’m comforted knowing that my boys are in a home filled with love and support.
Aaron is only three, and so of course has absolute trust in us, but I know he and his younger brother Ray (5 months) will keep that feeling as they grow up and maintain their trust in us. Finding out that Santa isn’t “real” isn’t going to break that. If it could, what would that say about the trust we’d built?
In the end, I’m glad my wife and I took the time to have this admittedly somewhat difficult conversation. I’m always more comfortable with a decision knowing that I took the time to think through the consequences and to make sure all options were considered. We’re still not sure exactly how we’ll proceed, but I’m comfortable including Santa in our traditions. We’ll have a couple gifts for Aaron from Santa, and I’m sure we’ll make some other references as well. And I’m confident he’ll enjoy being “in on it” when the time comes, and he can help explain Santa to his little brother.
Most of all, I’m looking forward to eating some cookies and milk on Christmas Eve. Errr… I mean, leaving some cookies and milk out for Santa to eat. Yeah, that’s what I meant!
Go West readers: How do you handle the Santa Claus issue in your house?
Dan Kernler is a community college math professor. He lives in Batavia with his wife, Veronica, and two boys, Aaron and Ray. He doesn’t believe in Santa or the Easter Bunny, but he’s still not sure about the Tooth Fairy.