Dear Santa, You Suck

I was 5 when I figured out the Easter Bunny wasn’t real. It wasn’t that I failed the suspension of disbelief–it was that I noticed the Easter Bunny had the same handwriting as my aunt that year. In my usual, filterless way, I started to announce my observation, but my mom clapped a hand over my mouth and dragged me toward the bathroom like she was making off with the Lindbergh Baby.

To her everlasting credit, she didn’t lie to me. I asked if EB was real; she said no. I remember scrunching up my face, heaving a sigh, and saying, “Santa too?” She nodded silently, then issued the death threat to end all death threats if I wrecked the “magic” for my sibs and cousin. I got it, and we left the bathroom as co-conspirators. In the years that followed, ones of poverty and divorce, I knew that magic didn’t put presents under our tree. I knew that my brother’s Cabbage Patch Kid and my sister’s Barbie Dream House didn’t come from a workshop–they came from year-long savings and a tiring wait in line at the toy store. And I liked the thought of my mom sitting down to eat some milk and cookies after we’d all gone to bed on Christmas Eve. I knew she’d earned it.

When the Darling Husband and I set out to have children of our own, we thrashed out a lot of our game plan far in advance. One of those things was Santa, and the conclusion we reached was that we would never actively lie to our kids about the fat man’s existence. But we’ve done a whole lot of evasion and omission over the years. When they ask if Santa is real, we ask them, “What do you think?” When they ask how Santa knows where to find us when we travel, we ask them, “What tools would you use to find someone?”

This year, though, I’ve really had it. There are so many things about the Santa tradition that piss me off. Let’s leave alone for the purposes of this discussion the whole creepy, stalker, NSA-level spying, remorseless housebreaking aspect. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” should be giving kids nightmares, and making parents peruse home alarm systems instead of Brookstone catalogs.

My first objection is that Santa compliance is mandatory for American kids. Nobody knows how to leverage peer pressure like grade-schoolers, and woe betide the kid who has to explain why Santa doesn’t visit their house. Maybe it’s because their family celebrates Hanukkah or Diwali instead. But maybe it’s because they don’t have money for presents. Kids are quick to point out that how much you get from Santa is an indication of your worth and goodness. No presents means you are lacking as a person, and kids internalize that message along with the holiday mythology.

My second problem with Santa comes from his whole Modus Operandi. To get presents from Santa, you fill a letter with all the things you’re wishing for, stick it in a mailbox, and wait for your wishes to arrive. We don’t write Santa letters in our house, but the grandparents are quite the sticklers about wish lists. This process always begins with the paralysis of choice: they’ve been told all year long not to ask for things we can’t buy, but now they’re supposed to summon up all the things they’ve wished for in the last 12 months? We’ve tried to mitigate some of the stress by constructing categories, explaining that they should have things that are cheap, medium-priced, and crazy-go-nuts over-the-top. I’ve wished for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle for the last 20 Christmases; my brother politely requests the Eiffel Tower every year. Recently, we’ve moved to a “Wear/Read/Play” model, which seems to function even better.

My third complaint is that Santa requires no gratitude. Since everything the man in the suit brings is magically constructed (apparently for free) in his workshop, and you get what you deserve, why be thankful? If Santa gets all the credit, kids don’t have any reason to think about what it costs for their loved ones to make those presents appear. Why is money so tight in November and January? Why does Mom look absolutely thrashed by December 26? As much as kids understand that a poor showing from Santa means that they’ve been bad, parents understand that if they don’t give enough presents, they’re failing a part of the parental contract laid out by society.

So that’s it, fat man–I’m cutting you off. This is the last year you get all the joy and none of the blame. I’m not falling for the line that taking away Santa will “deprive my children of a sense of wonder.” You know what they can feel wonder for? Real things, like nature, the cosmos, the infinitely woven tapestry of story and life that surrounds them. Instead of watching the NORAD website for Santa’s supposed location, we’ll bundle up and look at the cold, clear night sky.

When my kids get the things they want for Yule, they’ll know it’s because their parents worked hard, and that every gift cost real money that someone had to earn. They’ll learn the joy of giving by seeing and understanding why we’re happy that they’re happy with their gifts. The holiday magic will come from family stories and traditions, from the candles and songs on the darkest night of the year, and from the Time Lord with a Christmas special that we can feelĀ good about our kids believing in.

3 Comments

  • Faith in myself restored!

    You have no idea how much this post means to me!

    I will be spending this year alone.

    Expected Christmas presents (not bought by me for myself) possibly, maybe… just one – from my almost ex in-laws….

    Been trying to tell myself that this is a good thing. I’m going to lock myself in and for the first time ever in my life actually have control of the TV remote/stereo/decision when to eat/what to eat/when QUIET time is :-)

    …. At the same time…..

    All this ****ing advertising telling me I should
    1) Be with people,
    2) Expect presents
    3) Be with people
    4) Get LOTS of presents
    5) BE WITH OTHER PEOPLE
    6) PRESENTS, PRESENTS, PRESENTS…

    Etc… ad nauseum…..

    I cannot thank you enough for your post. I will go look at the stars, allow myself to buy myself a book I want, dream of traveling the world and going to ALL the gigs – and not feel guilty.

    AND

    if I do CHOOSE to spend time with people this Christmas, I will do my very best to make sure it actually is my choice – no guilt trips, no accepting of pity offers from people who have bought into all the advertising. I want to be able to choose to be with people who actually want me around, and not because of the date, but because what they actually want to do is have a cup of coffee with me.

    (*phew… takes deep breath… had no idea I was getting that wound up about it! sorry for the rant*)

  • That is one (of many) nice thing about being a Christian. You can completely ignore Santa and few people question you because your house is full of nativities instead of Santas and elves. Some people, however, ask me, “But why would you take the magic of Christmas away from them?” Um, we provide plenty of magic without creepy elf dolls or Odin with a red nose. Our kids get way more than enough toys and presents without any Santa gifts. And since our emphasis is “Jesus showed us love by coming to earth, how do we show love to other people,” the kids learn how to give with little expectation for returned gifts. They know they don’t get gifts because they’re “good;” they get gifts because they are loved.

  • When I was a kid my parents were pretty clear: Santa gave us a chocolate or two, an orange, probably a book and some other small gift that could fit in a large sock. Everything else was from real people who had to go to the effort and expense of choosing and paying for a gift.

    I couldn’t have articulated how that was better than Santa providing all the gifts without reading this, but it avoids the 2nd and 3rd problems you outline (and while it does nothing to relieve the 1st, it at least links family finances which can help a kid at least understand)

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