I was one of those kids that believed in Santa Claus a bit too late -- my hopes and dreams were dashed during my tenth Christmas -- so I endured (bravely, I thought at the time) the taunts of the unfaithful and the heretics who claimed the Santa Claus was not real and that it was my parents who bought me gifts, wrapped them up, and stuck them under the Christmas tree. And lied about it.
For years, I refused it. You see, I believed I had infallible proof. First of all, there were the letters my sister and I sent to Santa. We'd write them on good stationary, put them in pretty envelopes, and then place them on the mantle of the fireplace. And the next morning, quite mysteriously, they'd be gone! Collected by Santa's elves, who occasionally came back during the twelve-or-so days before Christmas and left little gifts like calendars and candy. Of course, there was the magic of Christmas Eve itself. It felt magical, for one thing. And then there'd be the faint chime of sleigh bells or the scuffle of reindeer hooves on the roof -- better yet, that one Christmas when my dad actually saw Santa's sleigh in the sky. You'd better believe I went straight to bed when I heard that. Finally, the grand morning itself: gifts in piles, some from my parents but many from Santa himself. The gift tags even said "Santa." In a familiar handwriting.
All this I presented to my friends, the heretics, but over time their superior logic trumped mine. The usual: how can one guy go around the world in one night and visit every house? How can a fat guy fit down a skinny chimney? The religious: Jewish kids don't get Christmas gifts, right? The Marxist: Why does Santa give rich so-and-so such cool toys but poor such-and-such awful things like sweaters and imitation Barbie dolls? Wouldn't Santa give more cool things to the poor kids whose parents can't afford nice stuff? And finally, the pure and driven consumerist: if Santa makes all his toys in his workshop, then how come you got a Schwinn for Christmas?
Eventually it was too much. I confronted my mother about it, who sheepishly confessed that indeed she and Dad had been Santa all these years. They'd been the ones reading my private letters to Santa, leaving little gifts around the house, and even faking those sleigh bells and reindeer hooves. Her reason for deception had been simple: it was fun to watch my sister and me enjoy the fantasy so much. At the time, I was so angry and so hurt that I swore I'd never speak to her again (that lasted about seven hours). I was shame-faced at school, having been proven wrong by the heretics. Christmas was never the same again.
What is it about Santa Claus that makes it OK to lie, wholesale, to your kids? I've heard plenty pro-Santa arguments, the bulk of which include something about the spirit of giving, the spirit of selflessness, and the first lesson in the faith of Jesus Christ. That discovering the "truth" about Santa Claus usually happens right around the time a child is learning about empathy and so is ready to take on the responsibility of gift-giving and merry-making him/herself. I'm sure some of that is true, at least in my case. However, I also learned that adults lie -- and without impunity. I learned that what I believe to be real might be -- actually probably is -- a massive fabrication of the world around me that has some kind of investment in my continued belief. (I'm not talking about the Matrix, you sillies -- Plato's Cave, Marx's economic base and ideological superstructure, more like.) In fact, it was probably that 10th Christmas that first planted the seed of doubt about Jesus Christ and God. I wouldn't call myself an atheist now, but I am certainly no Believer.
I'm blown away with the cultural apparatus in place for the encouragement of the Santa Claus myth. Santas at the mall are only one and rather creepy example. There are the TV commercials for familiar products that suddenly have a completely different timbre and tone with the addition of Santa Claus, suggesting his potency. (I'm thinking especially of the Pebbles cereal commercials -- you know, where Barney from the Flintstones is always trying to steal the cereal from Fred but on Christmas, with Santa, they share.) Just today I saw a news report tracking Santa in New Zealand and showing "raw footage" of Santa flying over the South Island -- except that it was pathetically bad CGI that anyone, especially a kid, would be able to see is not real. And then, when children turn seven (or in my case, ten), they're not given much by way of support during the transition from believing in Santa Claus to indulging younger brothers and sisters.
Of course I'm mad!
Of course I know that many kids, even most, weren't either so gullible or so dedicated to things magical to care much if Santa was Santa or if he was Mom and/or Dad. (Which begs the question: how effective is the lesson in selflessness, giving, and Jesus Christ if it doesn't really matter who Santa is?)
The thing is that believing in Santa, despite the fallout afterwards, was really nice. In fact, make-believe in general was a wonderful thing for me as a kid, encouraged by my parents, and is hands down the foundation for my writing career. It was beautiful, in a way, to believe that someone could be so selfless as to spend Christmas Eve bringing gifts to the world -- and it did seem that people were less likely to be selfish at Christmas, more open and more holy. Even though now I can barely get through a mall without wanting to personally beat up most of the other customers, I still remember the quiet, still feeling of Christmas Eve and the joy of the following morning. I'm not sure I'd want to deprive a child from that experience. I don't have kids and probably won't have any for a while, insh'Allah, so I don't have to make up my mind yet.
How about any of you out there? Any Santa Claus woes?