08 December 2005

on santa

Now that James is almost 4, we are at an age of learning to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Now that the Christmas season is upon us, we are facing the Santa issue. What to do?

I don't really feel comfortable telling the Santa story to James as if it were truth. When I was a kid, the tags on the gifts said they were from Santa, but we knew it was Mom. We recognized her handwriting. That, and she never really tried to convince us otherwise. So I knew from early on that Santa was a myth. Yet I was a kid who really enjoyed fantasy, and I pretended to believe because I wanted the magic.

This year is the first year that James has really had questions about Santa, and I hesitate in my answers, qualifying them with statements like "some people believe" and "the Santa story says". Earlier this week after I'd been shopping for Christmas presents, he asked me why I got the presents instead of Santa. On the spot, I couldn't really think of a good way to answer, so I told him that Santa is pretend, a story, and that we buy gifts at Christmas for the people we love. After all, if he thinks that Christmas presents magically appear, how will he learn the joy of giving gifts? I thought maybe that would be it for Santa.

Then, today, in the car, out of nowhere, James tells me, "Mom, I believe in Santa." I said okay. Then he asked if today, we could ride the Polar Express to the North Pole. I told him that the Polar Express is pretend, there is no train to the North Pole, and even if there was it would take days to get there. And James just didn't believe me.

So I think in our case Santa is less of an issue than I was expecting. I tell my son the truth, and he doesn't believe me, because books and TV and movies tell him Santa is real, his friends (and lots of grown-ups) talk about Santa, and everywhere he looks in the month of December he sees Santa.

I think James is turning out a lot like I was as a child, at least in instances like this, insisting on fantasy even when he's aware of the reality. In my family, there are two famous stories about my denial of reality: my insistence that my Cabbage Patch doll was a real baby, and telling my second-grade teacher that I had a baby brother. In my mind, these were not lies or delusions; these were things I wanted to be true and so pretended they were. James is very creative and imaginative, and it looks like he's heading down that road of trying to create his own reality. I can't say that I see anything wrong with that.

1 comment:

kim said...

I think you've hit upon a good solution. James will someday understand that Santa isn't real but he won't face the same disillusionment as he would if you had been the one deceiving him that Santa was real.

When I was in kindergarten or so, I remember writing a letter to Santa even though Mom had been very clear that he didn't exist. Wanting to believe seems very important for kids.

I'm happy, though, that you aren't feeding your kids the Santa myth. That way, in a few years, Molly won't be able to shatter James' childhood dreams by revealing that Santa is a sham. (I fear that she'll still do that to her other cousins, though...)