A Clown Named Santa Claus

Back when Manchild was a wee thing, or possibly before he was even born, Micah and I decided that we wouldn’t really do the Santa thing. He wasn’t a big part of Micah’s childhood, and though he was a part of mine, I thought it might be a good thing to see if we could focus more on the reason for the season, the giving, the birth of the Savior, etc. by cutting out the middle man. We have nothing against Santa — the title of this post reflects, not my feelings on the man, but is a quote from Manchild regarding his take on Santa’s appearance — and we embrace the part of him that is the spirit of giving, but we hesitate to embrace the whole personage because of how tangled he has become in consumerism.

However, we realize that not everyone feels the same way we do. And far be it from us to be the reason your kindergartener comes home in tears because our child spilled the beans. We’ve also had the heads up from several friends that sometimes, kids just want to believe. You can tell them the truth, but they’ll still choose the magic. Also, I don’t particularly like the idea of having strangers berate me when they ask my kids if Santa is coming to visit them and they say, “Santa isn’t really real, he’s just for pretend.” So, we’re still working out how to put our theoretical idea into practice.

Our current strategy consists of not promoting Santa. This means that we haven’t told Manchild straight out that Santa is just pretend. It also means we haven’t told him that Santa comes on Christmas Eve to bring gifts, either. We try to answer his questions and address his comments as they come up, in a vague but sensitive way (and ignore the subject altogether when we can). Last Christmas there was an image of Santa hanging on the door of our apartment building and several people asked if Santa was coming to his house, but it wasn’t until the season was over that Manchild was starting to put the pieces together. We managed to avoid any tough questions or awkward encounters.

Last Friday, as we were getting ready to go get our Christmas tree, Manchild asked about “that clown that comes at Christmas time named Santa Claus.” And does he really bring people presents?

“What do you think?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t really think he brings people presents,” Manchild said, and looked at us expectantly.

“The nice thing about Santa,” Micah said, “is that he’s as real as you want him to be. If you want him to be real, he is, but if you don’t want him to be, then you don’t have to think he is.” And then we held our breath. Did he want to believe? Or was he just testing us? The jury is still out. There have been other brief exchanges regarding Santa, but none of them have been definitive on the subject of whether he believes, or wants to believe, or knows that it’s pretend — and, despite Manchild having told us before that it is pretend, there still seems to be a door open there.

For the first time in my life as a mother, I’m feeling ambivalent about how I am communicating with my child. It’s always been really easy for me to be straightforward and honest with him, and that has been my goal. But not this time. This time I’m dancing around multiple sensitivities, and I am, perhaps, somewhat undecided about what I want him to believe. Or how I want to handle the Santa situation at all.

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  1. Santa Clause wasn’t a part of my childhood or my husband’s, and we’re not making it a part of our children’s Christmases either. I told my older son, who is 3 1/2, that there was a man who lived a long time ago who gave gifts to some children and that now people dress up like him at Christmas time, just like we dress up and pretend to be something different at Halloween. That seemed to make sense to him. Our kids are still really little so it’s hard to say how our plans will turn out, but so far the truth is working just fine.


    Misty Reply:

    This is pretty much what we are doing too. I always thought it was a bit odd that we caution children around “strangers”. However, during one time of the year, its PERFECTLY normal to sit on a strange man’s lap. Yeah, not too keen on that part. But, we do talk about Saint Nick and how he gave presents to people in need. We also talk about what we believe and the importance of love and charity. We aren’t really “doing” the whole Santa thing either.


    lizzie Reply:

    But you get such funny pictures when you make your kid sit on a strange man’s lap! Totally kidding. It used to be funny to me, but just thinking about how traumatized Squish would be if I made him do something like that . . . I cringe at the idea of it, and feel for those poor poor children who are being laughed at all over the internet.


    lizzie Reply:

    Why didn’t I think to tell him the actual history?!?! Thanks so much . . . this simplifies things a lot, actually. I definitely think Manchild could understand and appreciate that.


  2. We’ve been debating the Santa issue at our house. Our kids are still really little and don’t “get” Christmas yet. They don’t have any expectations. Our strategy has been to just downplay Santa this year. Every time we talk about Santa, I get a bit of an uneasy feeling. I’m curious to see how others handle this and keep their kids from ruining the magic for others.


    lizzie Reply:

    This is exactly how I feel. That uneasy feeling . . . I think Kristi, who commented before you, had a good way of handling it: tell them the history and explain exactly why people “pretend” about Santa. I think it would work for us, anyway. I would be interested to hear how your story develops over time.


  3. Cagesjamtoo (aka Sam)

    December 13th, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    I think it gets messier the more kids you have. When my older kids asked when they were younger, I just told them he was something fun to believe in. There were a few years where I wasn’t sure if my kids really believed or were really just pretending.

    My 6th grader had a discussion with a 3rd grader at school where she told him there was no Santa, and he wanted her to prove it. She did her best to explain away his belief, but I don’t think it worked. Some kids just want to believe.

    Today, however, I did ask my 4 year old, that Santa wanted to know which doll she preferred. I couldn’t decide and really needed to know. So now I’m playing with it to suit my purposes.

    I think I will stick with him being fun to believe in if they ask straight out and let them believe until then.

    BTW: there isn’t a present under the tree that says, “from: Santa”


    lizzie Reply:

    I can see that having more kids might complicate things. I know Manchild would be totally on board and understand the history of Santa and why people pretend, but Squish has an entirely different personality and I’m not sure at this point if he’d be on the same page.
    Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s nice to be reminded that I don’t have to be locked into anything. I can adapt as necessary.


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