In the Santa Wars, of which we are casualties, children are often brought in as small foot soldiers, only there’s an interesting twist to that- the children of the non-Santa troops are asked to perform as defenders of the (admittedly charming) Santa myth for the other side. More on that in a moment.
Being the historically keen, nerdly minded folk that we are, what we tell our kids about Santa is that he is a charming Victorian frivolity concocted by combining several myths around the world, including one about Saint Nicholas, which is based on a real person. We tell them a bit about the real Nicholas, a kindly minded and generous believer who sometimes secretly put coins in the shoes of the poor, and explain that he lived and died a long time ago. Perhaps we should have foreseen where this would lead, but we didn’t.
Therefore, we have been on the receiving end of considerable parental ire when my historically keen, nerdly minded, well meaning but misguided small progeny have conceded to a friend who has refused to let the notion of there being a ‘real Santa Claus’ drop, “Well, there *was* a real Santa Claus, his name was Nicholas. But he’s dead, now,” and said friends burst into tears, running to their parents to sob that my child told them Santa died.
I understood why people were upset, and I always reprimanded my kids when they told, since they had been asked not to. But it was hard, since the children never did it maliciously, and it *always* began by the other kids bringing it up and then refusing to drop it, and starting an argument about it. Every year I would review with my children the fact that other parents did tell their kids Santa was real, and it was not our job to disabuse them of this notion, and they were not to bring up Santa at all (and after the second time a child did this, I also added, “And you must never, ever, tell kids that Santa died”). Even if it had not occurred to me, other parents would have made sure I knew my duty (as they perceived it) in this area as those from the ProSanta camp, whenever they found out that we didn’t do Santa, would earnestly instruct us that they hoped we understood how important it was for us to be sure to teach our kids not to tell their kids that there is no Santa.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had to tell my kids what not to say about Santa, since the youngest is now 15. So I no longer have any personal stake at all in this, but this is what I wish I had told those parents who thought it was my kids’ job to protect their kids from learning about what my family believes about Santa: “That’s not really my responsibility, nor is it my child’s responsibility.”
Thinking about it, doesn’t it make more sense if we assume that if it is really that important to you that your kids continue to believe in Santa, then you, as the parent, have more responsibility than I do to protect that family tradition? Surely we can agree that you definitely have more responsibility than other people’s little kids? Why aren’t the Santa people having that same annual conversation from the other side?
I’ve heard (and practiced) all the time that if you don’t do Santa you have to tell your kids not to spill the beans, but I’ve never heard of a parent taking responsibility for this themselves and telling their kids, “Some people don’t believe in Santa, so Santa won’t/can’t visit them. We don’t argue about it, and we shouldn’t talk about Santa with those other kids because we don’t want to hurt their feelings in case Santa isn’t visiting them.”
And here is why it is doubly important that if you want your kids to believe in Santa, it’s your job to have this conversation more than it is the job of the non-Santa people- in every conversation where my kids spilled the beans, it was never my kids who brought it up. The Santa kids would generally ask a point-blank question which my children could not wriggle out of. Then they’d ask another one, and then, invariably, the other kids would tell mine that they were wrong, or their parents were wrong, or even more difficult for a child to wriggle tactfully out of answering, “Well, if there’s no Santa, how come….”
I know my family isn’t the only one this has happened to- the Santa kids refuse to allow the non-Santa kids to disengage. They are all just kids, I get that. But it’s really unfair to place this burden of protecting your family traditions which we don’t share on the shoulders of our kids, right?
I mean, if you think about it, it’s really much ruder for the Santa people to talk about Santa to non-Santa people- like talking about the parties you go to which your listeners aren’t invited to.
So, if you’re a Santa-is-real family,( and I have no quarrel with that, we’ve been there), and it’s important to you that kids from families who don’t believe in Santa do not share their view with their kids, you need to make sure your kids don’t bring up the subject. Tell your kids that some parents tell their kids that Santa isn’t real and don’t let Santa visit, if that’s what you feel comfortable with, so they must not embarrass or make to feel awkward those children by bringing up Santa or arguing about it. It’s not the job of somebody else’s five year old to protect your family traditions, it’s yours.