KAMLOOPS — A couple of days ago, a CBC news headline caught my eye. It was about the myth of Santa and whether it is a beloved tradition or a damaging lie. A study concluded that perpetuating the Santa myth damages children’s trust in their parents and ultimately the kids’ mental health may suffer too. Other psychiatrists agreed that the myth can seriously affect children who already have trust issues.
I know parents who go to extraordinary lengths to feed the illusion, so I can sympathize with the idea that a child’s trust can be at least temporarily affected when truth surfaces. That kids are smarter than we give them credit for is true. The magic in their world comes from watching a butterfly emerge from a cocoon, from watching a starry summer sky while snuggled next to their parents and, quite a lot of it, from being read to and from reading on their own as they get older.
As for the Santa article, comments were allowed and boy, did they ever come in! The good old polite and apologetic Canadian way was forgotten, at least in the handful of comments I browsed over (there were over a thousand.) Some people attacked Christianity and demanded that the myth of it be retired as well should Santa go, many defended Santa saying it is rightful that children be allowed to have a bit of mystery in their lives. A couple of people pointed out that some children have the luxury of believing in Santa while others don’t. I can relate.
It was three years ago that my little guy asked point blank if Santa was real. I asked him what his thought was. He replied that if Santa was real he would first attend to poor children. He was referring to the previous year’s gift giving at his brother’s school in Vancouver. We were encouraged to pick a name and buy a gift for a child from the sister school whose parents had lesser means to provide Christmas gifts.
A meaningful gesture and all worthy, a good example of compassion too, but a troubling issue for a young one as far as the existence of Santa is concerned. Children’s minds are keen, and so is their pursuit of answers to many questions. Their sense of fairness, at least in early childhood, is unyielding. So I came clean. There is no Santa. Somehow the magic of Christmas did not suffer.
I grew up with the Santa myth as well until one day the truth shone through. Discovering that it was my parents who took care of the presents did not alter my peace of mind. On the contrary, it endeared them to me even more and it reminded me of the precious Christmas Eve walks with my Dad through our heavily snowed neighborhood. My Mom would have the gifts under the tree by the time we got home.
The magic, as I think of it now, consisted in togetherness and in time spent together. I barely remember the actual gifts over the years. It is the smells and memories that stayed with. Some of the decorations I saved and bring out every year to hang in the tree alongside the ones I have created with the boys over the years.
The uncovered myth of Santa never surfaces as a traumatic element. There was no real presence to speak of to begin with. The couple of times we made it to a place where a Santa-clad human read Christmas stories to children gathered round was the equivalent of a warm and fuzzy seasonal storytelling.
In a world that robs our children of their innocence very early on (a topic that deserves its own lengthy discussion) it seems a bit silly to fight so hard to keep a myth going, more so when it comes with such a heavy consumeristic component.
Christmas-related waste is an uncomfortable topic perhaps but much too real. From cards, gift wrapping and Styrofoam-filled or plastic decorations, to unwanted, single-use items and wasted food, the toll is likely heavier than any of us can picture.
The irony is the short-sightedness of it all. While going above and beyond to add sparkle to the season of giving, we may be forgetting that the valuable gifts are the ones that need no wrapping or a whole lot of money set aside: slow times spent together. Presence. It fills a child’s heart more than any of Santa’s gifts ever could.
The gifts that our children will treasure over the years may just be the closeness they felt as we made Christmas a time of giving (of ourselves) as we played together, snuggled to read or made decorations that they’ll see hanging for years to come. The Santa myth will likely become but one of them, as long as at the first signs of questioning its real presence we ‘fess up and show our children that nothing is lost in doing so.
It will serve as a reminder that magic can never be created by buying into a man-made symbol. It exists regardless around children.