Another Christmas day has come and gone, and I am pleased to report that Santa did not make an appearance. He never has. There is no such thing as Santa, as you well know. In Ireland, however, as in much of the Western world, this imaginary creature is a bigger, more important fixture in the whole milieu than the infant Jesus.
My daughters were born in India and Singapore respectively, where I felt no compunction whatsoever to celebrate a Christian festival. We joined in when we were asked – the same way we joined Eid, Lunar New Year and any other festivities we were invited to enjoy.
This year marked the third Christmas that my children and I have spent in Ireland – and the seventh (yikes!) that we have spent in Europe. Every year in December, conversations turn to ‘Santy’ and at some stage, I will mention that we don’t ‘do’ Christmas and, therefore, we don’t ‘do’ Santy.
Why we don’t do Christmas – we’re not Christian – is far more acceptable to most people than why we don’t ‘do’ Santy. What I have always found interesting is other people’s annoyance with me for my non-conformism with regard to Santa. I am called upon to explain myself several times a year, and most often during the months of November and December.
I have a few friends who are proud, devout athiests. In keeping with their beliefs, they teach their children that there is no God. Yet, they also teach their children that there is a santa. While I consider it their right to tell their children what they like, I find it interesting that santa is ‘allowed’ but God isn’t.
My stance on Christmas and Santa was questioned again about a fortnight ago. Yet again, I explained that we are Hindu and, as such, our big celebration is Diwali. We celebrate it with much joy, feasting, visits, stories, prayer, new clothes, sweets, gifts….in fact, there is little difference between how we celebrate Diwali and how other people celebrate Christmas.
Yet, I am frequently struck by how other people are irritated by my refusal to celebrate Christmas and tell my children that a fat man with a beard will gain entry to our home when we’re asleep and give them all the things their little hearts desire.
The reason I have never told my children that Santa exists is simple; I don’t want to lie to them. In recent weeks I have been called to task by my assertion that telling children Santa Claus exists is lying to them. It’s not ‘lying’ I have been told, it’s ‘telling stories’. Lying is bad, telling stories is good. It’s helping kids’ imaginations grow.
I disagree. Santa sets up expectations. If you’re good, you’ll get what you want – if you’re bad, you won’t. What do you when you can’t afford what your child wants? Or, indeed, when you don’t even know what they want? It is conceivable that a child might be reluctant to share what they truly want from Santa with their parents (or anyone else) – or even commit to paper in their list to the mythical being: Yet because of the lies – sorry, stories – they have been told by their parents and other adults, they believe Santa knows what’s in their hearts and minds and so, will grant their wishes. How disappointed will that child be on Christmas morning? I fail to see the ‘magic’ of Santy that I am often told I am depriving my children of.
I’ve also cringed when I’ve heard parents use ‘Santa’ as a stick to beat their children with ‘If you’re not good, Santy won’t come.’ ‘Stop that now, or Santy won’t come to you.’ Even – ‘Eat your peas if you want Santa to come.’
Of course my children are given gifts at Christmas time, but they know who the gift-givers are, and they know that gifts from me are, well, from me. I don’t see the need to buy into a lie perpetuated by the society I happen to live in. Because, of course, one lie begets another, begets another. Children don’t just think about ‘Santa’ at Christmastime, they will think – and ask questions about – him throughout the year.
The questions they ask need answering – inevitably with more lies. And what about the moment when the child realises or is told that there is no Santa? I know several people who were annoyed with their parents for duping them in their childhoods, and others who were devastated when they found out that something they had believed and held dear all their little lives was totally false.
I feel it important to note that my children are aware that other children believe in Santa Claus and they have been brought up to respect that and not spoil the ‘fun’ for other children. When asked, my two just say that Santa doesn’t come to them because they’re not Christian, but that they get plenty of presents at Diwali – which comes at least 6 weeks before Christmas. They like the fact that they get their celebration before everyone else!
Whatever you believe, whatever you celebrate, I would like to wish you and yours peace, love, joy and safety now and always.