This time of year, Mommy Facebook groups and online communities are full of questions and comments about how to celebrate the holidays, what to buy our kids, and where to volunteer. Oh, and whether it is okay to lie to our children about Santa.
Inevitably there are those who are appalled that anybody would suggest to a child that Santa is real. There are those who are worried their kids will ruin Santa for the kid on the playground. And then there are Jewish parents who worry that their kids have FOMO on Christmas.
The parents who celebrate Christmas, and whose children “believe in Santa” — and set out milk and cookies for him — worry about at what age children should “know” that Santa isn’t real. These days, you can have Santa write a personalized letter to your children or even give them a call (thanks to various apps). Also, Santa lets Christmas-celebrating parents threaten their kids from Halloween onward that Santa won’t come if they keep acting that way. That’s a lot of lying about Santa.
What does happen when a kid looks in your eyes and asks directly, “Is Santa real?” As a rabbi, I am interested in this question because it is based in early critical, spiritual thinking. The questions shows that a child is beginning to realize that there are stories told that are foundational to our sense of self, and that while they may not be factual, there can be truths within them.
We have to unpack what our children are asking us with this specific Santa question. Are they really asking whether there is one man named Santa who lives in the North Pole, comes on his flying reindeers, and arrives via the chimney of every home, everywhere? If they are really, truly asking out of actual confusion then you can pause with a smile and accept with them that that’s not possible.
But, I don’t think that most kids are asking that. They know this. They do. So, if you answer their question, “Actually, kid…we are Santa” or “There is no Santa,” you are most likely answering the wrong question.
So, go ahead … let your kids wonder and hope. They aren’t going to have problems with fact and fiction and trust issues. They are going to know one thing intellectually and still have tickles and butterflies emotionally. Because if their dreams bring a twinkle to their eyes and a giggle to their lips, you are doing something right.
Image: Chowan University Flickr