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Telling Kids About Santa

Santa Spoilers and Other Terrible Things Parents Do at Christmas

Parents lament their children's wild behavior between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the weather turns, the days grow short, and every time you turn around, a relative is handing your child another cookie after bedtime. But the adults eat just as many cookies. They drink too much Champagne and spike the eggnog. They binge on holiday movies and make threats about Santa taking back their kids' presents, and worse, they bust the power of Santa in the middle of all that joy. That's what I did.

My daughter has never fully believed in Santa. Partially because we've never built the myth up for her. Since she was born, we've only spent one Christmas morning in our own house, because we travel to our relatives'. The fact that we travel means that the gifts are loaded in the car, or the bags and boxes are wrapped when we arrive at Grandma's. The traditions are in place but vary from house to house. She's had different stockings, and the Christmas breakfast is never the same. Sometimes we open gifts on Christmas Eve, before Santa can arrive. She receives gifts from family members, while some gifts are labeled "From Santa."

When she asked me last year, who buys the gifts "from Santa," I was honest. I told her that we do, and our family members buy gifts. We give the gifts to each other. The "love" arrives, regardless of Santa. That is how we celebrate Christmas, and the story of Santa Claus is just that, a story that we enjoy. She seemed to already know this. Our house has never had great illusions about showers of toys from above. And I like it that way. Is it cruel to deprive my child of the magic of Santa Claus? What I've found is that Christmas, without Santa's rule, is still lovely and magical.

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I'm not a total grinch, but I don't enjoy creating fantasies for my child in the name of tradition. I loathe the Elf on the Shelf. I don't like making kids believe only for the sake of belief. We're not religious, so there's not regular talk of miracles and faith. I hope to expose them to religion and faith over time, but I don't want to feed it to them. So far, our family hasn't settled into its Christmas tradition, and even that doesn't bother me. I have a hard time lying to my child, even if it's about an essentially fun thing. It feels wrong.

My 5-year-old is still happy to play along. We read the books, we talk about reindeer, we make cookies for Santa and enjoy decorating and lighting our house. But my child is playing with me, and that feels right, as we make traditions together. We go overboard on Christmas music. We expect snow. We travel far to be able to see our loved ones. We visit holiday markets and outdoor ice rinks. In our city, December marks the true beginning of Winter. It may snow in November, but December is when the snow begins to stick and stick around until, say, late March.

The magic of Christmas is waking up to a house that loves you, that welcomes you and has made a place for you. A house that will celebrate another year of being a family, that wants to embrace Winter and whatever lies ahead. It may be about fantastic, miraculous stories, but it is also about seasonal shifts in family living, as we focus on growing human connections and relish quieter, longer evenings in a warm place.

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