Tonight was one of those nights that make me feel like the worst parent in the world.
Mark took Jeffrey to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. They were supposed to be back fairly quickly, but didn't get home until after 9 p.m. I couldn't imagine what had taken them so long. Turns out, Jeff had insisted on standing in line for Santa. They waited over an hour! I was very surprised, because in the past he has demonstrated little interest in visiting this odd, seasonal stranger.
Jeff was very excited about his trip to see Santa, and told me that he asked Santa for a Lego Star Wars Imperial Star Destroyer, which costs around $100, if you can find it. We already bought his Christmas gifts, and the Star Destroyer is not one of them. It's just too big and too expensive. So I told him very gently that we had already bought his gifts and that he wasn't going to get that, although we had some other very good presents for him. He said, eyes shining, "But I asked Santa for it!"
This is when I reminded him of what I told him when he was younger and just starting to "get" the whole Santa concept... that Santa Claus is a really fun game that people like to play at Christmas time, but Santa isn't real and that we have to buy the gifts. I told him that we don't have enough money to buy all the things he wants to get, and I want him to know ahead of time so he isn't upset Christmas morning when it isn't there.
I thought he remembered that Santa wasn't real, as I had made quite a point of it.
There were tears. He said he didn't want any Christmas presents and I should take them all back, and that we should take down the Christmas tree. He took the Santa towel out of the bathroom and said he didn't want to see it any more. He was angry with me for telling him. I told him over and over how sorry I was, that I thought he remembered about Santa.
I felt horrible.
But at the same time, I knew that I needed to tell him the truth. I reminded him that Jesus is real and Santa isn't, that Christmas is about Jesus' birthday. That the presents he does get are from the real people who love him. And that God loves him so much that he sent Baby Jesus into the world to be his Savior. So, we can put the Santa towel away, but we aren't getting rid of the Christmas tree or the presents. The tree reminds us of the new life we have in Jesus, and the Christmas gifts come from our love for each other. They remind us of the great gift God gave us in Jesus.
He buried his head in my shirt and cried and cried. Then he laughed because there were snots all over it, then cried some more. He didn't want to hug me goodnight when he finally went to bed.
I really hate Santa!
At a time in their lives when children are the most vulnerable, when we are trying to teach them about honesty and integrity, why do we tell them such a bald-faced lie? It's also a huge burden around the necks of parents who feel obligated to be Santa and fulfill their children's extravagant wishes. Tonight, I actually found myself thinking for just a moment that maybe I should charge that toy he wants to my credit card and put it under the tree "from Santa." But only for a moment.
The Santa myth is also spiritually dangerous, in my opinion, because Christmas and Santa are inseparably linked to Jesus in children's minds. So when a child does finally have to face the disillusionment of finding out Santa isn't real, what's to stop them from thinking Jesus isn't real either? Why isn't Jesus just another nice story that we made up?
I know I did the right thing. At least, I think so. The timing could have been better. But I also feel horrible for crushing Jeffrey's Christmas dream. At the same time, I deeply resent the cultural phenomenon that sets up such false hopes, and takes so much away from the real hope to be found in Jesus Christ.
Tomorrow I'll try to get the lights on the tree. Once it's lit, perhaps he'll want to decorate it. And I know he still wants his presents, regardless of what he might have said tonight!
Postscript (the next day): Jeff was fine this morning, back to his cheerful self. I asked him if he wants to decorate the Christmas tree tonight and he said "Yes." I told him it's okay to believe in Santa if he wants to, and he said he did. The important thing, from my point of view, is that he knows the truth, even if he wants to pretend. I told him how my dad would always pretend to be Santa and wake us up shouting "Ho, Ho, Ho!" I also told him how my mom would make doll clothes for our dolls and wrap them up, marked to us from Mrs. Claus.
I also told him that other parents want their children to think Santa is real, so not to say anything to the other kids he knows, but just to pretend with them. He said "You get what you get and you don't get upset!" I asked him where he heard that, and he said "Miss Coremin," his teacher. I'm going to send her an email thanking her!
I have to admit, I'm a bit of a novice at Santa Claus, as far as how to handle it with my own child and other people's children, since my mom told us the truth from the beginning. I knew it wasn't real, but really enjoyed the myth anyways. She told me that, despite her best efforts, I insisted on believing in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy "because Jesus loves everybody." She couldn't figure out how to argue with that kind of logic, so she gave up! But then... I also believed that there were elves in my bedroom, a witch in the attic and a secret pile of chocolate dirt in our backyard. So it's all a bit of a muddle, but I turned out all right and I'm sure Jeffrey will, too.