Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Twist on the War on Christmas

When I went to pick up the girls from school yesterday, one of the first grader's teachers came up to me and whispered that the 7yo had explained that she doesn't believe in Santa Claus. The teacher continued to whisper how the 7yo, who was standing right there with us, had articulated her beliefs quite clearly.

Of course, I had several simultaneous reactions to this conversation. The most important reaction was how proud I am that my daughter can speak for herself. I could tell, though, from the whispering, that my child's beliefs made this teacher uncomfortable. The teacher persisted, suggesting that we read The Polar Express. I told her that we had read it.

Then it was my turn to explain. As a single parent with no other rallying grown-up with whom to wink-wink nudge-nudge our way through fairy tales, building up the concept of Santa didn't really seem worth the effort. Instead, I presented to the children my understanding of the concept of Santa saying, "Some people believe..." and asked them, "What do you believe?" I go along with whatever beliefs they express. It changes from year to year, sometimes week to week, or even hour to hour.

I was uncomfortable whispering because I'm sure the 7yo was picking up parts of the conversation, and the whispering might be sending her the message that her beliefs are not okay. So gently, I brought her into the conversation with us.

We do celebrate Christmas in our family, but neither Jesus nor Santa plays a starring role. We celebrate the spirit of giving, of gathering family and friends, and connectedness. We also bring light into the darkness of winter with twinkly lights, candles, cookies, and song. And yes, we decorate a tree. Of course the children have long lists of toys and gifts they want, but they have those lists all year round. The most miraculous gifts come, not from Santa, but from Grandpa and Grandma, aunts and uncles, and from friends near and far.

The teacher was unconvinced.

She told me that the 7yo's beliefs might scare the other children!


Santa picture found here.


smoke said...

enjoinder works for me.

beautiful post!


ellroon said...

I've been there, Ina. I was a bad mom for refusing to let my children believe in Santa. The mothers were puzzled why I would deprive my kids of the mysteries and joys of Christmas.

I grew up not believing and it felt too much like lying to tell my kids this belabored fairy story. They have assured me (now much older) that they never felt deprived. They both were told to respect other kids beliefs and not inform them that Santa was not real. They still had fun on Christmas.

My niece told a story which describes it all. About eight or so, she came home to tell her mother some kids did not believe in Santa. Her mother, realizing she was old enough, took a deep breath and admitted that she and her dad were actually Santa. Tears and sobs. Fleeing to her room.

Sometime later, my niece appears. The Easter Bunny? Her mother nodded. Tears and sobs. To her room.

Appearing. The tooth fairy? Nods...Tears etc.

A whole lot of childhood died that day. But my niece, now with two of her own, has them believing in Santa. It was the way she was brought up.

Marcellina said...

Keep corrupting those young minds!

ms f said...

Very similar here too, Ina, but I do want to warn you, hell hath no fury like another parent, who is sleep deprived from keeping the secret going.

Be careful. lol

Hayley said...

I like the way you've handled it. I feel uncomfortable perpetuating the myth, but I am doing it, mostly because it's obviously so very enjoyable to Otis to believe in this. And to believe in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, whom I cannot get myself to even feebly pretend with him is real. About RRNR, I say, "Lots of people do believe in him." We read the chapter in _On the Banks of Plum Creek_ where Ma explains to Laura and Mary that Santa is "everywhere," because he embodies the spirit of giving. But the subtext (everywhere means nowhere, kid!) was lost on my Santa crazed child.

Hayley said...

Oh, and why do you hate Christmas?

JennyJJ said...

We did the full-blown Santa thing with my son (I was a single Mom, too-- my co-conspirators were my folks). I was careful with my words as well-- the "some people believe" & "the spirit of what Santa represents to me..." but dang, I also got our the jingle bells on xmas eve and responded in a messy left-hand scrawl with icing all over the decimated gingerbread house in response to his requests for things like "magic reindeer" and "sleepy dust". I have all his thank-you notes to Santa-- hysterical little missives of gratitude. We had a blast with it. When my son started to catch a clue, he ended up pretending for years after he realized the truth, because he didn't want it to end. Talking with him about it now (he's 13), he says he'll definitely do the same with his kids-- maybe Santa is fake, but the magic we created and celebrated around the idea is still very real for him-- to believe in something so special and impossible helped him learn something about the value of magic in our lives and our relationships.
I would never be the parent that freaks out if another kid spilled the beans, but I have no regrets about the way we invited the myth into our lives and lived it out for a short while. :-)

xan said...

Ina, best part of the whole post was your description of the whispering teacher, and how you brought the subject of the conversation into, um, the conversation. Especially your mention that the whispery thing might make 7yo feel like there was something wrong with what she said or that she said it.

Brava, madame. A shame the teacher was not herself so thoughtful. Lovely post indeed. :)

Ali said...

you are truly a wonderful parent.

Anonymous said...