It’s not even a secret to those who keep the secret, really: parents are Santa’s most helpful elves, interceding with children’s Christmas requests and quietly seeing to whether they’re granted. But when we know that those packages under the tree are coming out of our own budgets and not a workshop at the North Pole–and we know that those budgets are stretched daily, even without the expenses of making the holidays happy–should we be feeding the fantasy and encouraging our kids to “ask Santa” for anything at all?
It’s easy for me to say “no” to that question, as my own son was raised without Santa. We observed Christmas; we decorated a tree (for several years it was a live one, and once we even went to a tree farm to cut our own), we exchanged gifts, we made special meals, and we even went to church more often than not, although we weren’t strictly religious in our practices. Santa just never entered into our family celebration. My first husband and I were college students when our son was born, and we didn’t get on a solid, independent financial footing until he was well into elementary school. But it was the 1990′s, and our decision to leave Santa out of our Christmas had little to do with either the general economy or our personal one; it was more an issue of my son’s father’s strict insistence on honesty. His train of thought was that eventually our son would come to learn we hadn’t been truthful with him about Santa, and then he might start to doubt a lot of other things we’d told him, and he needed to be able to trust us. (Granted, there was some what-if extrapolation going on there, but this particular point didn’t seem like a big enough issue to disagree about. There were other, much bigger issues later on, but I digress.)
In any case, Santa Claus never brought my son a single gift, and being honest about that was strangely freeing. My son could still make a Christmas wish list, but he knew those wishes would be granted by his parents and other members of the family…and he also knew some of them wouldn’t be granted. He knew presents cost money, and we’d tell him when it was unlikely he’d get something he wanted because it cost too much money. My own parents were Depression-era children; I was quite familiar with the phrase “we can’t afford it” when I was growing up, and I’ve never had a problem using it as a parent myself. And even when cost isn’t the primary objection, “you can’t always have everything you want” is a life lesson; personally, I don’t feel that it’s an inappropriate one to give at Christmastime.
Christmas has become an increasingly secular holiday during our kids’ lifetimes; its focus seems to have shifted to bigger and better gift-getting, and Santa–a fantasy figure for whom money is no object–is a larger part of it than ever before. Trying to sustain that fantasy in these challenging economic times gives too many parents the gift of extra holiday stress, and that’s a gift none of us need. Maybe we can’t just afford Santa any more.
Florinda blogs primarily but not exclusively about books at The 3 R’s Blog: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness. She is also on Twitter and Facebook. She’s asked Santa for a new laptop this Christmas, but doesn’t expect to get it.