I was born into a hybrid Buddhist/lapsed-Christian home, so I was not raised to fear a vengeful bearded man in the sky damning me to an afterlife of fire and brimstone, nor was I raised to fear a vengeful bearded man in the North Pole damning me to a Christmas with a coal-filled or empty stocking. I feared the disapproval and disappointment of my parents and teachers, but my behaviour was never connected to my expectations of Christmas morning.
Christmas was secularly celebrated at my house, with an artificial tree decorated with tinsel and lights, “Christmas turds” (handmade salt clay creations) and other cherished ornaments, a special meal of some sort (the best year was our Lebanese themed dinner… Yum!), those ridiculous “Christmas Crackers” that you pull apart with a loud ‘snap’ to find a paper hat that dyes your forehead some wild colour when you sweat and some cheap plastic choking hazard of a toy, and a stocking from Santa. Santa really liked to bring socks and underwear (and sometimes a new nightgown) to fill up the bottom of our stockings, but he also threw in candy and a toy or two. Santa didn’t bring bikes or Barbie dream houses, like on television. The whole schtick was pretty toned down. My sister and I wrote letters. We made a wish and blew out a candle in a special Santa candle holder. We left a small bribe of cookies and milk (as a child, I understood this to be a form of payment). Santa broke into our house undetected, tasted the cookies, drank the milk, and filled our stockings. Santa always came, even though we didn’t go to church, and he continued to visit even after I started to wonder aloud why he and my mom had the same handwriting.
I don’t remember ever being threatened with Santa not coming on days when my sister and I misbehaved. We were threatened with lots of other things, including the loss of our existing toys when we did not clean them up off of the floor (Dad followed through!!), but Santa wasn’t a big enough deal for us to be used in that way. It didn’t even occur to me that Santa might really pick and choose “nice” and “naughty” kids to either shower with gifts or coal, even though I had read stories, sung carols and watched videos attesting to this behaviour.
I originally thought the Elf on the Shelf was a cute toy, and enjoyed seeing friends’ photos of their elves getting into mischief… but when I found out that some parents use it as a kind of “Santa Spy” that supposedly reports all misdeeds to the Guy in Red, I suddenly lost my affinity for tiny elf culture.
Being a new parent means making some interesting choices. My husband and I both enjoyed the mythos of Santa as a child. We had many years of waiting for Willow to consider our parenting choices, including how we might handle Christmas with a child.
For now, I think that we have agreed to buy into the Santa conspiracy, but in a low-key way. We hang lights and decorate our home. We don’t have a Christmas tree for Santa to leave anything under but we do hang a few ornaments on a potted plant out of reach of our furbabies. Willow has a Santa stocking that will have three handmade presents in it this year: a crocheted rainbow tutu dress, a crocheted bib, and a stuffed monkey with embroidered eyes.
This is “baby’s first Christmas”, and she will not remember it except through pictures. There is time for us to tweak traditions, to figure out how Santa can get into a house without a chimney, and to decide how deep we really want this whole Santa thing to go. How best to encourage meaningful literacy through letters to Santa, both asking and thanking him for a gift. How many explanations we want to give. How much honesty will be too much honesty at certain ages. How to allow her to experience the magic and mystery of belief and then later on respectfully allow others (especially younger friends) to continue to experience that same magic and mystery without ruining their fun.
The best part of all of this musing about Santa? We finally get to make these choices for our real, living child, who is finally here. I don’t need anything from Santa this year. I have everything and everyone I ever wished and prayed for, right here.
Happy HannuKwanSolMas, everyone.