We killed Santa. Gabriella, now six, was three when she asked us for the first time if he was real. “No,” we said, “but it’s fun to pretend isn’t it?” She was our first-born. We were reading far too many books. We wrung our hands over decisions as momentous as skim versus soy and feared the far-flung consequences of every wrong choice. Because of all this and my own tendency to doubt just about everything, I’m wondering once again this Christmas if I’m a bad boy for slaying Santa.
I’m sitting down with myself to get to bottom of all this Saint nixing once and for all.
Q: So why’d you do it? Why’d you kill the Claus?
A: I didn’t so much kill him as I moved him from one neighborhood to another, from real to pretend. It’s not killing the Big Bad Wolf to tell my kids he’s not real is it? Of course I guess that’s partly because they’re afraid of him. But what if I’m afraid of Santa Clause? Is moving him to the land of make believe so bad then?
Q: Afraid of a jolly old man with a bag full of toys, a jiggle in his belly, cute little elves and miniature reindeer? Why? What’s wrong with you? Have a bad photo session at the mall little fella?
A: We Christians talk a lot, especially me, about the dangers of making Christmas all about getting stuff right? Well, how do I expect my kids not to think consumerism is the heart of Christmas if Santa lives? The two are synonymous.
Q: Elitist freak.
A: I just don’t think any amount of MY parenting can separate Santa from stuff in MY kids’ heads. With Santa being real comes a real expectation on my kids’ part that they’ll get a sleighful of toys from him. So killing…I mean making Santa a fun pretend thing, was step one in making gifts secondary to our family’s Christmas celebration and tradition and making our family and faith the bulk of what it’s about.
Q: So all those parents out there, the millions of them who have their kids leave cookies and milk out on the hearth for Santa are damaging their kids? Harsh and a bit judgmental don’t you think?
A: Absolutely not. I just didn’t want my kids to associate Christmas with getting stuff, and I didn’t know another way to stop that at the time.
Q: At the time. So you would let the old man live if you had it to do over again?
A: You’re not going to let the whole killing Santa thing go are you?
A:I don’t know if I’d do it again. We did this on a whim really, by accident kind of.
Q: So now it’s not murder one. Are you entering a plea of guilty to the lesser charge of accidental manslaughter?
A: Well, yea. And not really. We had the chance to resurrect him and we didn’t take it so I guess we did…No, we never murdered anyone. We reasserted his makebelieveness last year when Gresham, then three, asked us if Santa was real. Again, we said, “No.” But back to how all this started-
Q: You’re a horrible person.
A: Listen. I think too much maybe – probably – but I’m not horrible. We had good intentions. We read this thing about how when kids discover Santa isn’t real it’s around age seven, the same age Christian kids start understanding the whole Jesus story. Well, all this came up in a conversation at a party. A psychologist was there-
Q: Oh geez, a psychologist?? Should have known.
A: Come on. Be mature. So, yea, this psychologist was saying that there are some in her field who fear revealing Santa, a formerly real person, as pretend could confuse kids about other real stories. It makes them, these psychologists say, rethink a lot of what’s real – at least for a short time. And doing that around the time they’re hearing fanciful stories about God becoming a man and walking on water could be detrimental to faith. But-
A: I was going to say, but I don’t buy that now. It’s just that at the time, worried about screwing up my first child, it made sense enough to at least talk about what we’d do with Santa in our house.
Q: So some liberal shrinks got the ball rolling. What made you decide to lynch the poor guy?
A: Tony Campolo.
A: He’s a sociologist. And a pastor too. he said something that made me rethink the whole Santa thing. He said Jesus had it easy. He said Jesus preached to a society that believed there were physical things that met physical needs and there were spiritual things that met spiritual needs. Our modern American culture is a more difficult place to teach self-less spirituality and simplicity because we’re convinced there are physical things that can meet our spiritual needs.
Q: That’s it? That’s just cause to off a saint that’s been making sugar plums dance in little heads for centuries??
A: No, I’d add to Campolo’s riff that America is also a place where we, especially certain groups of Christians, believe there are spiritual things (namely, God) that can and will meet our physical wants. And that’s what I don’t want to feed by keeping Santa Clause alive in our house – or real. I meant to say real.
Q: So believing a guy in a red suit comes down your chimney and leaves presents under the tree screws kids up how, exactly?
A: I don’t think it screws up anyone. I just want my kids to be countercultural in a good way and this is a good start. I want them to celebrate Jesus, this gift from God, not by obsessing over getting things but by giving and remembering the very real story of his birth. So this was a crazy attempt I guess at moving in that direction. It just seemed nuts to complain about how materialistic I and the rest of the adult world is this time of year and then turn around and raise my kids the same way we were raised.
Q: So now your parents messed you up?
A: No. Well, yes. I mean – look, my mom worked from six in the morning to six at night and then on top of that she made clothes to sell every Christmas. For what? To give me a few hundred dollars worth of stuff I can’t even remember getting today. I recall a basketball goal and a bike and that’s about it. What I remember most is great times with family, lots of food and hours spent circling things in a Service Merchandise catalog and begging for them. And my parents gave me just about everything I asked for, even if it nearly bankrupted them. They gave because they loved me, I realize. That’s the same reason I killed Santa Clause. A weird way to love kids I know, but I swear it’s working.
Q: How so?
A: Well, we don’t give them anything for-
A: We don’t give them anything for Christmas. Grandparents do. You can’t stop grandparents from giving gifts. But we do ask them to moderate a little and they do – sometimes. And to make room for whatever loot the kids get and to teach them to give, they give something of theirs away. This year Gresham gave away a box of Matchbox cars. Gabriella gave away some toys she’s outgrown. They don’t whine about it either. It’s just part of Christmas like Santa was part of mine. They’ve been conditioned to think it’s normal. We drop off our donation and we talk about how God gave up his Son he loved very much because we needed him just like we give up clothes and toys we like a lot for kids who need them more than we do. Gabriella actually told the the other two all this a few days ago before I could. She’s got it down.
We helped out at a food pantry yesterday. We made Christmas cards for our Compassion child and the kids put a little bit of their allowance in for her caretakers to buy her anything she needs like clothes or books. Basically, moving past Santa and getting stuff has let us make giving and the Christmas story the bulk of what Christmas is in our house. And doing these things has made them want to do them all year. We now do a monthly service project as a family and that idea came out of how we celebrate Christmas together and wondering why we only teach kindness once a year.
Q: Oh, you’re so pious. Everyone look at how spiritual this guy is.
A: It’s not about that. We don’t have it figured out and we may look back one day and laugh at ourselves. I don’t know. I’m just trying to raise peculiar Christians – extremists. I’m not sure killing Santa was the best idea but it’s worked for us. No lists. No malls. No extra jobs needed to pay for things. No guilt about not getting them what they want. And more money left over to help people who really need stuff.
Q: Don’t you worry about ruining Christmas for other people’s kids? What if your kid tells theirs Santa’s a fraud?
A: My kids think everyone knows Santa’s pretend. It’s like this. My kids think the big bad wolf is pretend and they think your kids know that too. So why on earth would they ever tell your kids the wolf’s not real? It’s a given. My kids assume everyone already knows what they know about Santa. So far, so good.
Q: You have a two year old. When she asks about Santa is she getting the same answer?
A: Yep. It’s too late to change the story now. We’re stuck. And Gabriella’s already learning about the real Saint Nicholaus. We showed her pictures of where he’s buried and talked a little about how much he loved kids. If we don’t tell Penelope the truth about Santa, Gabriella will.
Now, I have a question for you.
If kids Santa isn’t real bothers us, why? What does that say about us? Do we react the same way when someone says the Tooth Fairy isn’t real? Why not? Could it be that without Santa many of us wouldn’t have much of a Christmas left? That’s what I’m trying to avoid. If “Jesus is the reason for the season” then why aren’t we at least more indifferent to the whole Santa thing?