Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Gift Giving and Kids

Yes, I'm sewing this a snail's pace. Interfacing and one dart on the Neue Mode white shirt on Monday. Two more darts yesterday. I just haven't had a chunk of time to sit down and sew...

So I'm still musing about Christmas traditions. One of the hot discussions...both in the boards and on blogs...has to do with Santa. Do you do Santa with your kids? How and when do you tell them the truth? What do you do if the truth really shatters them? I've mentioned what we did with our kids in some of those discussions, but didn't really go into the 'why' behind it.

My Story:
I was a very, very believable child. I believed pretty much anything anyone told me; when my folks (mostly Dad) told me Santa brought the presents, I believed them.

I remember the first Christmas of the magic presents, although I didn't realize it was Christmas at the time; with two very young children, Mom didn't bother with a tree that year. We lived in a very small house w/only one bedroom. I was 3, my sister was about 18 months old. I remember my dad carrying me on his shoulders from the bedroom to the living room, saying 'Let's see what (here he said a name that I did not recognize and so it didn't register. It wasn't until I was an adult that I heard Dad use that same tone with my own kids and the echo in my memory recollected that what he said was 'Santy') brought last night!' And, to our wonder, the coffee table in the living room was covered with toys. I remember getting white, burgundy and gold plastic play dishes, a set of bongo drums (of which I have no other memory), and lollipops. I woke up the next day expecting to do it all over again; when we didn't, I decided someone in our extended family --and I suspected my great-aunt Tillie, although that would've been ludicrous-- must've come over after my sister and I went to sleep and left the toys for us. I'm sure we had Christmas celebrations at our grandparents' houses that year; we always did, but I didn't put it together. Nonetheless, by the next year I was a firm believer in Santa Claus. My dad got a real kick out of doing the whole Santa thing and I bought it.

Even my mother's Christmas Eve Sewing didn't tip me off. I believed. Even though it disturbed me that we didn't have a chimney for Santa to come down, I still believed. There was a radio tower on a hill not too far from us that had a blinking red light; I never paid any attention to the red light at any other time, but on Christmas Eve I was sure it was Rudolph's nose. I really believed...

By the time I was in fourth grade, though, I was the last in my class who still believed. Other kids laughed at me, telling me that my folks just bought those presents and hid 'em in the car or something. I staunchly defended my faith...not only in Santa, but in my parents. They wouldn't tell me if it wasn't true! I didn't even doubt.

But then I stumbled across a carom board stashed...not even hidden, really...beside the furnace in the porch/utility room. I asked Mom what it was; she said it was for our cousins. When it was under our tree, designated as a gift for my sister and me, I knew. I'd been had. And, as disappointed as I was that there was no jolly fellow coming to my house to bring me gifts, I was devastated that my classmates were right and I was wrong. I felt publicly humiliated. I think I subconsciously decided right then that I was not going to do that to my kids. Christmas lost its sparkle for me for about three years...until I found out how much fun it was to surprise somebody with a gift they really liked.

Now, at that time in my life, my family did not regularly attend church. When we did go, we went to the community church that basically went through the worship ritual, did some charitable work and some fellowship suppers and stressed being good, moral people. But it was shortly after that truth-baring holiday that Mom (Dad rarely went to church) took us (by then my sister and I had two little brothers) to the new Baptist church in town, which became the church of my coming-of-age years. That church taught from the Bible in a way the old church didn't...and the faith that has carried me through my entire life was born and nurtured there. Jesus became real...and I didn't confuse Him with Santa. It wasn't my parents who told me to believe in was the Bible, a different authority altogether. And my parents didn't tell me to believe the Bible; the witness in my spirit was what led me to believe. And I came to understand that the wonder of Christmas wasn't about the Santa story, but about God who took on humanity so that He could reconcile humanity back to Himself. And that, as Linus says, is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

So I never struggled with the idea of 'So, if my parents lied about Santa, what about Jesus?' thing. I didn't even see the parallel there, because it wasn't a parallel for me. But after My Sweet Baboo and I got married and moved into our first house, our neighbor kids told us that they didn't do a Christmas tree, because their parents didn't want them to believe in Santa. Oh, they celebrated Christmas and traveled out of state to spend it with family, but the idea was that our neighbors wanted to make sure that their kids didn't put their faith in something that wasn't true. No Christmas tree seemed a little extreme to me, but I saw the point behind what they did and when DD # 1 was born, My Sweet Baboo and I decided that we would make Santa a game; tell her and any siblings that she might have the truth about St. Nicholas, and how people give gifts and pretend that Santa brings them so that there's a surprise on Christmas morning. We wanted them to have fun with Christmas, but not confuse the fun with the truth. And we wanted them to know they could always trust us.

Well, you would've thought we were teaching our kids to stomp on bunnies from the reaction that got from various family members and friends. We were robbing our children of one of the joys of childhood! How could we do that! Scroogish, that's what it was! Well-meaning older ladies would see my kids in Wal-Mart and ask them what Santa was going to bring them for Christmas. It was a definite counter-culture attitude, but we stuck with it. And when the mall hired the portly gentleman with the white beard who lived around the corner from us to play Santa every year, we didn't have a problem explaining it to the kids. We have one Santa youngest DD wanted to talk to Mr Bob as Santa when she was three, so we went early in December and let her. It's a cute picture...and it's kind of neat to point to it and say, 'He lived just around the corner.'

Also, we didn't have to fulfill massive wish lists. We gave each kid five things for Christmas: something to read, something to wear, something to play with by themselves (toy), something to play with with others (game) and a craft or hobby item. It made shopping relatively easy; we had a limited, specific list and we knew when we were done.

We usually traveled for the holidays and didn't have to explain to kids how Santa knew where they were...or how Santa knew they wouldn't be home on Christmas and so would bring their presents on New Year's Day instead.

And you know what? Our kids do not seem to have suffered therapy-inducing trauma from having never been told that Santa brings gifts. And we still have fun with Christmas. And I have no doubts that we did what was, for us and our convictions, anyway, the right thing.

Which is the best anybody can do.


  1. We get the same looks when the 6 year old says that Santa isn't real. We've just explained that at Christmas there are things are that are traditions that people made up and that there are things that are real and that truly happened. Santa, of course, is a tradition, Jesus on the other hand, truly came to the earth in a humble way to be our Savior.

    I love your idea of 5 gifts for each child - I might have to steal that one!

  2. Sometimes the gifts get combined a bit; when DH restored American Flyer trains for the each of the boys as they got old enough, that gift counted as the toy and hobby gift. So there is some leeway.

    I've had a number of folks tell me they liked the five gift idea. But one lady said that they gave three gifts (essentially my list without the book and the clothes), because the Wise Men brought three gifts to Jesus. I thought that was a great idea, too.

  3. we don't do santa either (and i've been working with calvin about not telling other children that santa isn't real. he is at the age [8] of absolutes, and says people either believe in santa or jesus, but not both). i never had santa as a child, so to do it for my kids would be brand new and weird for me.

    it is funny when people ask my boys what santa is going to bring them. once, when my oldest was little, he said "who's santa?". :)

  4. I know what you mean, Linda! That *was* one thing that took explaining...that some kids believed Santa was real and it was up to their moms and dads to explain to them what was truth. But what was surprisingly hard was that *I* had to be careful what I said when! I was so used to not worrying about it that I came very close to putting my foot in my mouth over the issue. I got dirty looks from my siblings more than once over that. I just wasn't thinking....

  5. Ooooh child, I know what you ladies mean. I am a concerned parent that wants only the best for her babies, I think letting our kids have fantasy in their life helps develop their creativity and their ability to problem solve when they're younger and when they are older and doesn't compromise our religious values at all. We watch a lot of the old classic cartoons as a family. In fact, this season I am working with a company you can directly purchase these great holiday classics at:, they put together a limited edition new box set of the best holiday classics like: RUDOLPH, SANTA CLAUSE IS COMING TO TOWN, FROSTY THE SNOWMAN, and my fav LITTLE DRUMMER BOY! You can also get this special set wherever DVD's are sold plus this great gift comes with a bonus music cd to set the christmas mood in your home off right.

  6. I was a very very believable child also. I strongly believed in Santa Claus and at about 5 tried to stay awake, hidden besides a piece of furniture just to see Santa coming. Of course I fell asleep there and missed Santa :)
    I was 8 or 9 when kids at school told me there was no Santa. I was crushed, came home in a hurry and told my father, expecting him to tell me they are stupid kids and Santa does exist. Well, he told me they were right (probably thought I was old enough to be told the truth) and I was so devastated I cried myself to sleep.
    Even if my parents live quite far away from me now (6 hours drive) Christmas wouldn't be the same without them so I visit them every year, together with my husband. And your post reminded me how much I miss them...

  7. I'm really liking the idea now that my 10 yo knows the truth. I've been so stressed lately over how commercialized Christmas has gotten. We are making a strong effort to get back to the reason for the season.
    Loved your explaination, BTW. I admire that you stuck to your guns!

  8. Thanks for sharing your story with us , I really like the approach you have taken with your kids :-)