It is impossible to avoid that glittering festive feeling that starts in earnest at some point around Bonfire Night, although I have seen Christmas decorations, Christmas gifts and tasty Christmas treats in shops since August (including mince pies that go out of date before Halloween). Whether you are the type of person who puts your decorations up in November or you never allow so much as a scrap of tinsel to enter your home, you can't help but avoid speaking about it and hearing everyone's varying opinions. As you might expect, I am here today to give you my unsolicited opinion on something that most people apparently don't find that divisive…
Santa Claus. Father Christmas. Saint Nicholas. Kris Kringle. Whatever you call him, and whatever your religious beliefs, most people have at least heard of him. That fat lazy bastard who only works one day a year and drinks copious amounts of alcohol whilst in charge of a flying sleigh. If you are not aware of this particular tradition, Santa, as I call him, brings gifts to little boys and girls who have been good, and nothing to little boys and girls who have been naughty. He enters the house via the chimney, despite being morbidly obese and despite the fact that most people don't have functional chimneys these days. Kids are traditionally supposed to hang out stockings for him to put Christmas gifts into, but these days I doubt many kids' gifts would actually fit in a stocking. Some say he brings coal to naughty children to really drive the point home, although I have never ever heard of this actually happening (which is related to one of my main issues, but we will get there eventually).
There are many variations across the world and not everyone uses the white bearded jolly old man trope, but I dare say that most Christmas-celebrating cultures have some form of mythical gift-bringer. My favourite variant is Swiss Santa, who does bring gifts if you are good, but if you are naughty then his sidekick Schmutzli whips you with his birch branch, shoves you into a bag, kidnaps you and takes you to some sort of camp for bad kids, where you are forced to work until you have learned the error of your ways.
Anyway, I am not here to talk about all the different gift / punishment bringers of the world (although that would be super interesting). To anyone who does believe that Santa brings gifts to millions of children worldwide, you should probably stop reading now.
To everyone else, it is not really a kindly stranger with an unlimited budget, it is your mum and dad / caregiver / someone else who can fit down a chimney that no one has. They tell the kids that it is Santa, but it is all a lie sandwich with a filling of deceit.
Personally, I don't remember ever truly believing in Santa. I think that I always thought it was a tongue-in-cheek game of imagination that was just meant to be a bit of fun. Be good or "Santa" won't come *wink wink*. I may be misremembering, maybe I totally believed at some point before my long-term memory started filing things properly, but I don't remember a point where the penny dropped and I think it is because the penny never left the ground. Although I do remember saying to my mum, "If Santa is real then why doesn't he feed all of those starving African children instead of Bob Geldof?"
So, fast forward to having kids. Actually, rewind a bit to being pregnant. I said, "I don't want to lie to my baby about Santa. I don't want to have a moment where she has a crushing realisation that the magic isn't real." My partner rolled his eyes and said he didn't have any strong opinions on the matter (which is a safe thing for someone to say to their pregnant partner when they don't agree with them but know they will lose ANY argument at the moment). My parents smiled sweetly and said, "Okay, would you like some cake?" (which is a safe thing for someone to say to their pregnant child when they know they will change their mind as soon as they have kids, but also know they will be met with stubborn indignation at the moment).
As with a lot of things, once I actually had kids I realised that sticking to your unshakeable beliefs is not always as simple as you think it is going to be. I love Christmas, and I wanted to be able to take my baby to ALL the Christmas events I could. Of course, they all involve Santa. The pinnacle of all Christmas events for kids is Santa, sitting on a plastic chair disguised with tinsel, surrounded by elves that are taller than me, with his sweaty acrylic beard. "Ho ho ho 'insert child's name', what would you like for Christmas? Oh my, that is a big list for such a big queue behind you!"
I also didn't want my kid to be "that kid" who destroys Christmas for all the innocent little boys and girls with a dose of cold hard parents-are-Santa reality.
Then, as the first couple of years went by, I had an epiphany about what really bothered me about Santa. I had thought that the problem was that I couldn't lie to my trusting little girl, her perceptive brain ready to pick up on the slightest of inconsistencies and brand me an evil harbinger of deception! It will no doubt become one of the many things she will have to relate to a therapist in years to come as she unpacks her many bad-mummy issues.
But…I realised that I was quite happy to talk about fairies, unicorns, and dragons. So, it couldn't just be the general lying about fantasy figures that was causing me distress.
What I realised was that I really felt my blood boil when I heard people saying to my child, "You have to be good or Santa won't bring you any Christmas presents!" On the run up to Christmas, suddenly people wanted her to believe that her every move was being watched, that putting a foot out of line would result in Santa becoming so disappointed and enraged that Christmas would be ruined! It is not just about the presents; it is about the implication that if you are not constantly well behaved then you are not good enough for Santa.
Add to that the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, no one ever actually made it onto the naughty list. I have known some very badly behaved children in my life, but Santa always visits them with all the Christmas gifts on their lists. I hate empty threats; I hate threatening consequences that are never going to happen. If I tell my kids that a certain punishment will befall them if they continue with a certain behaviour, then that punishment will damn well follow through. I quickly learned the hard way not to make massive threats thinking they will comply, because I have then had to follow through with the threats, which then caused a massive meltdown that wasn't worth it. Parenting is a learning curve for everyone.
As a side note, the whole premise that an old man is constantly spying on little kids looking for naughty behaviour is extremely problematic on many levels. And don't even get me started on that creepy elf on a shelf. That little pervert is not setting one magic dust covered foot in my home.
Anyway, as you have probably guessed, I did comply with the Santa myth with the caveat that no one is allowed to threaten my children with lumps of coal or any other threat of withdrawal of love based on their behaviour. Obviously, my kids have heard of Santa's performance assessment criteria from sources out with the scope of my rigid information control, but I have shot this down and told them that Santa always comes and that their sources are misinformed and unreliable (I have also been teaching them the importance of always using reputable sources, which is an important life skill that most adults lack).
I realised that I had made the right decision in not denying my kids the Santa experience at their nursery Christmas party. Santa entered the room with a jingling of bells and gasps of awe came from the well-behaved children sitting in wonder at seeing the magical man they had heard so much about. My youngest, aged 2 at the time, jumped up and ran across the room, wrapped himself around the poor man's legs and shouted, "THANTA!" with the purest look of joy on his face that I have ever seen.
It was worth every lie, and worth the disapproving looks from the parents of every other restrained child in the room.