The kids are still on the young side for it being a (cultural) necessity; by this time next year, my son will have been in Kindergarten for a few months, so I suppose some combination of both myth-learning and myth-busting will be unavoidable.
If I had my choice, we’d avoid the whole thing entirely.
He’s simply too young to understand the whole “love and generosity and devotion” angle, so that’s out. And even if we held fast to the idea of Santa as the “magic” of the holidays, there’s no guarantee that wouldn’t eventually backfire, too (take a listen to this week’s This American Life for the story of one family whose child, now in his 30s, is still struggling with a sense of betrayal).
P and I hadn’t even talked about Santa, about how we’d plan to handle it, until I came across this “recipe” for Magic Elf Seeds. I’ll save you a click: you “plant” some TicTacs in a bowl of sugar and overnight they “grow” into candy canes.
It’s cute, right?
Except for the part where you’re lying to your kid about how things work.
My son is now is old enough, and smart enough, and interested enough in the world, to understand and accept and see for himself that when we plant real seeds in the garden, it takes awhile for them to grow — a week, maybe more, before you see a tiny green sproutlet poking through the earth. For that matter, just the other night we watched a Food Network show about how candy canes are made — so he’s got that part figured out, too.
I just couldn’t see myself sitting beside a very bright and trusting child and faking wonderment, actively trying to make him believe in something that I know is not true. How is that different from a lie?
And to stave off the obvious question: no, we practice no religion, though for census purposes we self-identify as Catholic. We could have the kids write their letters to Los Reyes — at least having them bring the gifts fits into a more logical chronology than what I grew up with, where they were simultaneously present at the Nativity and arrived a week and a half later — but that’s just a grown-up, sanctified version of Magic Elf Seeds. My online bank statement says that no mystical force beyond my own credit rating bought or brought those gifts.
I’m sure that this time next year I’ll be singing an entirely different tune, about the need for curiosity and wonder in a world that grows more cynical by the day, but for today I’m just hiding out, avoiding, wondering if Rudolph will go down in history as a hero, or just another young buck with a drinking problem.
Stay tuned, I guess.