"What do I teach my child about Santa, if anything at all? Do I tell them the story of Santa? Do I wait until they ask? Do I include the part about being naughty or nice? Or do I tell them the truth and hope they later thank me for my honesty instead of crying their eyes out at what they missed out on?"
Admittedly, my husband and I are cynics. Our motto has always been, "Whatever mainstream society is doing -- we want to do the opposite."
Before we had our son, it was easy to be cynical. Our judgments, resistance and choices only affected us, not a little doe-eyed child.
It has taken us a few years to let go of the more constrictive parts of our cynicism. Our most cynicism-transforming experience occurred during our inaugural trip to Disneyland with our son. At that time, we lived in Southern California and even though my husband and I prepared to hate the entire experience and all its corporate propaganda and piped in smells, we went because, well, how could you live in So-Cal and not go to Disneyland? As we waited in the gargantuan line to merely get on the bus from the parking lot to the park, we scoffed at how all these fools were about to be taken the minute they stepped into the golden gates of the Land of Disney. If there's a sucker born every minute, this must be the delivery room, we thought.
And then we went on the It's A Small World ride about 50 times and everything changed -- we were the ones being "taken" -- and to our shock, we liked every minute of its hypnotism. Our son was amazed -- a boat, on a track, going past singing puppets from all around Earth and then we get to do it again?! And it felt good to have fun -- even if someone was profiting off of it -- and to not take things so seriously. Maybe there really was something to this "Happiest Place on Earth" bullshit. (OMG, we were drinking the Kool-Aid!)
As the cynicism melted off my husband and I and dripped off our Converse sneakers that day, with the help of giant Mickey Mouse-shaped pretzels and my son laughing hysterically on the Tea Cup ride, I started to see that behind these modern customs and conventions that I tend to resist, can lie a beautiful intention. In Disney's case, from what I've gathered, his was an intention to provide children with magic of all sorts. That's not to say that perhaps the intention hasn't been forgotten after all these years of slick marketing campaigns, licensing and corporate earnings.
But this magical visit did help illuminate the fact that buying into particular customs, like Santa Claus and going to Disneyland, does not have to be coal black or snow white. Neither is necessarily all bad (or all good) and just because there may be aspects of both that I dislike, it doesn't mean I have to throw them both out the window entirely. I can take whatever I think the pure, well-intended part of the custom is and build from there and hopefully end up wherever I'm comfortable on the Christmas-and-Santa-Claus-and-presents scale.
The other night, as I was putting my son to bed, we were talking about Christmas and I realized that I had never told him the story of Santa Claus because I have felt so on the fence about how deep to go down this rabbit hole. He has probably put things together here and there, but he didn't have the full picture. As a child, I remember Christmas and Santa being such a truly magical time. To this day, I can viscerally recall the smells, the sights and the feelings of the entire month of December. Because of this, I took a deep breath and began telling my son the story of Santa as I knew it. I had forgotten how many intriguing parts there were to it -- Rudolph, a flying sleigh that travels the world, leaving out cookies, chimneys, the elves and the workshop...the circle of life theory hit me hard as I was passing on my vision of Christmas down to my son. And, the parts that didn't feel right to me -- where I felt like the intention went off track -- I left out. My son didn't hear about the coal in stockings or the naughty-or-nice list. And he didn't hear about Santa watching his every move to make sure he was being a "good" boy. And although they may be part of the original Santa story, they didn't feel right being part of our story.
As I turned off his nightlight and closed his door as visions of sugar plums danced in his head, I thought I would feel more torn about having just told him the world's biggest lie. But I didn't. I am honest with my son about basically everything -- he knows about death and birth and where babies come from and periods and all of that and he's not yet five. So I guess I expected this to feel more like a betrayal, but instead, it felt like I gave him a gift. The gift of mystery, magic, fun, hope, surprise and silliness (his favorite thing).
I want my son to know truths about the world and humanity and not be sheltered from reality. And there are many ways in which I try to support this. But the other side of the coin is that I want him to also have an opportunity to believe in the unbelievable. To be a child and to not take life so damn seriously. There is plenty of time for that when he grows up and becomes a cynical adult.
Learn more about Brandy and her current class, workshop and Mamas Circle schedule at her Website.