No matter how old or jaded or cynical I get, I’m always excited on Christmas Eve. I’m filled with pure joy and anticipation as – at the risk of sounding materialistic – I go to bed thinking, “I get to open presents tomorrow!” Call me shallow and consumeristic but, I’ve said it before, I like stuff! And so while I also look forward to watching other people open their presents, seeing everyone I love and generally celebrating with a ridiculous amount of food, for me opening my stocking on Christmas morning is perhaps the best part of the whole day. Thus, I go to bed the night before practically brimming with glee.
This level of Christmas Eve excitement, however, is something usually found in much smaller humans – and for one simple reason: Santa Claus. A lot of children around the world believe that, when they go to bed, a very kindly man in a big red suit will sneak in with lots of presents, leave them in a big sock and take a mince pie for the road. Countless Christmas stories, movies and decorations are dedicated to this man but, for all my excitement on Christmas Eve through all the years, I must admit: I’ve never believed in Santa Claus.
A few years ago, my friends were recounting the harrowing times when they found out (spoiler alert) Santa Claus wasn’t real. It’s something that, unless you live under a rock, all believers will come to discover. But I couldn’t remember finding out that there was no such thing as Santa, so I asked my Mum and she informed me: “You never believed in Santa. We used to pretend we were putting things out for him, but you always knew it was just a game.” I told James this and he lamented the fact that I never had a proper childhood, but it made me wonder: is it such a good thing to teach kids that Santa is real?
Now, I definitely see the benefits of raising your children to believe in Father Christmas. It’s such a wonderful thing to be a part of; a tradition that all their friends take part in. You can find out exactly what your kids want by getting them to write their “letter to Santa”. The Naughty-Nice list also provides a mightily useful parenting tool for when your kids are acting up (you can even get an app to get Santa to “call you” and warn your child to stop misbehaving or they won’t get any presents). But, at the risk of sounding like Mr. Scrooge, here are some things to consider before promoting the validity of the man in red:
- The heartbreak moment: As I said above, most people who believe in Santa have to go through the process of finding out that he’s a fiction. This whole tradition of wonder and excitement can fall away in an instant, leaving kids heartbroken that it was all a lie. There are some disappointments from which you can’t shield your children, but if they never believe in Santa at least that’s one belief they don’t have to lose faith in.
- Santa vs. Jesus: I remember reading an article years ago where a child found out Santa wasn’t real and immediately asked, “So, what about Jesus?” If you think about it, the Jesus story has some very unbelievable elements to it – the virgin birth, the miracles he performs in his life, the whole “coming back from the dead” thing – so if you’re raised believing in the Santa mythology, and you discover that to be false, why would you not then question the other beardy dude that your parents have been raising you to believe in?
- Santa vs. Jesus – the rematch: The other issue with Santa is that, as I said earlier, he dominates the Christmas period. He’s in basically every movie, a lot of the songs and has come to be accepted as the figure of the season. In an evermore secular world, Jesus is getting more and more replaced, more and more forgotten about at a time we should be remembering Him most, and the other bloke seems to be taking over.
- The credit: I don’t have kids but I’m pretty sure that, if I worked really hard to think of, buy and wrap a bunch of presents, I would want my kids to know their toys were from me. Or, to sound slightly less selfish, I would want them to know where their stuff came from; that it had a cost and we shouldn’t go crazy with the Christmas consumerism; that it wasn’t elves in the North Pole who assembled their presents but people all over the world who need to be paid a living wage and treated well. Saying that, Christmas morning of the future is starting to sound a little annoyingly political at my house…
I don’t know whether it’s better to believe in Santa or not. Frankly, this blog is mainly a safe environment for me to calmly to explain to James that I did have a good childhood, thank you very much. And, when I look back, part of me feels like I missed out on something special growing up. But as with any tradition – be it at Christmas, on your wedding day or just “the way we’ve always done things” – it’s good to take a look under the rug. It’s good to stop, evaluate and think through what consequences your actions might have. You might decide that you’re happy for your children to believe in Santa Claus – I might even decide that, if and when the time comes. But, at the risk of not sounding terribly “Christmassy” – and getting an earful from James when he reads this – all of our choices, not matter what decision we come to, should be made thoughtfully and with integrity – even at Christmas.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti