My oldest daughter, soon to be 8 years old, sipped her hot cocoa thoughtfully, the white lights of our Christmas tree reflected in her dark blue eyes. She watched me wrestle awkwardly with the star on top.
“You know what I really want this year?”
”What’s that?” I asked from within the pine needles, thinking about my already-chock-full gift closet.
”A firebolt,” she pronounced.
“You mean the broom Harry Potter rides?”
”That’d be awesome. But I don’t think broomsticks really fly, honey.”
”Yeah, I know,” she shrugged, scooping a half-melted marshmallow from her mug. “So I’ll just ask Santa for one.”
This isn’t the first conversation that has played out this way in our house. Santa is magical. Santa can do anything. And Santa produces when your parents fall short.
And so begins my love/hate relationship with the Big Man in Red. Here’s more on why I alternate between “ho ho ho” and “bah humbug.”
Santa is kind. A jolly hero who loves others and gives selflessly? Sign us up.
While Santa puts on a show of great kindness, he doesn’t really teach our kids gratitude. He doesn’t teach them that the thing in their hands is there because someone worked hard to make money to buy it. Or went to three stores before snagging one. Or stayed up late wrapping it. The thing just appeared, and the person who should be thanked is far gone, napping on the North Pole. So no thanks is given.
Also, today Santa is about stuff. Gift cards, hot toy lists, box upon box of Amazon Prime deliveries. The original Saint Nicholas, the one who actually lived in Europe in the third century, was about helping others. He cured the sick, lent a hand to the needy, loved children. Fingerlings and Hatchimals were never part of the equation.
Santa is the great equalizer. He gives to every child across the world — boys and girls, every color.
Except when he doesn’t. He accidentally forgets some kids who really need gifts. And my girls are old enough to know that and see that we need to pitch in to give a few of these kids a good holiday. But man, it’s tough to try to explain why these boys and girls didn’t make Santa’s list.
He also doesn’t give to every religion, of course. So my kids know that — in plain terms — if you don’t believe in Santa, he doesn’t visit you. Seems a bit begrudging for such a magnanimous old soul.
Santa is magic. Squeezes through chimneys. Flies reindeer. Visits the entire world in just one night. Is 1,747 years old. Even the Grinch has to admit that’s a pretty impressive resume.
Perpetuating the magic requires lying to our kids. Sounds harsh, but isn’t that what we’re doing? I remember grappling with that my first couple Christmases as a parent, my first brushes with intentionally lying to my daughter. I guiltily ate half the cookies left out that Christmas Eve, leaving big phony crumbs behind.
Then I got used to it. Now I happily wolf down all the cookies and script my thanks in big loopy letters. But now the questions — “What about the kids who don’t have a chimney?” “Why can’t he make a firebolt?” “Why doesn’t Santa visit Anna’s house?” — involve more and more complicated lies. “Of course Santa can use the front door at some houses! He just chooses to squeeze his big butt down chimneys everywhere else.” Totally makes sense.
So that’s where I am this Christmas… loving the magic of Santa and the traditions he lends my family, and also resenting his big, chimney-squeezing jelly roll. But in the end, Santa makes my daughters light up, as they imagine a Christmas full of joy and surprise. And he helps to make my big girl, so capable and on the brink of knowing too much, still a little girl. At least for this December.
So with the knowledge that these years are fleeting, I’ll keep inviting Santa in for cookies.
And hope that this didn’t land me on his naughty list.