Scarred by Santa?
Is the Elf Myth Harmless Fantasy or Cruel Lie?
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
There are things good parents don’t say to their children. We don’t, for example, say, “Somewhere in the high desert, there are gnomes building you a Wii,” or “Did you know that antelope have invisibility powers?” We never tell them that a kindly old woman is likely to emerge from our tub drains in a blue suit at some point this month. And that we should leave her a dish of tiramisu.
Why, then, will we swear up and down that if our kids behave and eat their vegetables, a fat man in a red get-up will flit through the sky pulled by wingless horned mammals and squeeze down our filthy chimneys to bring us coveted baubles shrouded in Costco wrapping paper?
What the elf are we doing to our kids??
I make a big stink at home about honesty and how it’s our family’s highest value blah blah blah. Yet I’ve dragged my old Doc Martens through the fireplace and stomped them across the living room to leave convincing ash footprints on the carpet. I’ve nibbled from countless cookie platters intended for Santa, leaving big, obvious bite marks and telltale crumbs. I’ve affixed postage to “Dear Santa” letters that were ultimately mailed to no one, nowhere.
Was I wrong to do it?
Before we had kids, my husband said he wanted no part of the Kris Kringle myth. Why would we tell our children that a stranger will break into our house to bring treats? That’s weird, he argued.
“It’s fun!” I countered, a thing no more fanciful than dinosaurs or airplanes to a young mind. It nurtures their sense of wonder, I insisted, their notion that the world is full of delightful surprises.
And it was all of those things. Until it wasn’t.
As kids get older, and smarter, and their questions about reindeer flight patterns become alarmingly astute, the Santa story begins to feel less like a harmless fantasy and more like a cruel lie. It becomes increasingly clear that the ritual, undertaken to spread joy, will inevitably cause pain. Then all we can do is curse our kids’ confounded naivete and pray they’ll figure it out on their own. (“God, if you’re there — if you’re not just something my parents made up to get me to behave and eat my vegetables — PLEASE let Junior wise up and give me a knowing wink so I can stop this seasonal subterfuge.”)
Curious about the lasting effects of a decade of deceitful Decembers, I spoke with a kid I know — a boy who was crushed when a friend finally snuffed out Santa for him in fourth grade.
“I felt like I was floating on something that I truly believed,” said Colton Ingraham, 11, “and it cracked, and vanished. And I fell.”
Dear god. What have we done?!
He visited Santa at the mall every year and wrote letters to him all year long. “To be honest,” Colton told me, “if I could go through my life believing that Santa was real and never learn otherwise, I would prefer that.”
Sniff! Sob! He’s killing me! But much like “Little Drummer Boy,” this unsettling Christmas tale ends on a satisfying note.
“I like to believe in Santa,” Colton said. “It’s a fun thing to do. It’s kind of magical. And I do believe that he’s real. Whenever a parent puts a present under the tree for a child, he or she is being Santa. He’s real in that way.”
And get this: Despite his initial despair, Colton plans to one day perpetuate the Santa myth with his own kids. “I want to do exactly what my mom did to me,” he said. “Exactly.”
See? I knew it. The world is full of delightful surprises.
Starshine Roshell is the author of Keep Your Skirt On.