What meaning does your family celebrate at Christmas?
The lines to see Santa Claus at the mall this Christmas stretch through toy departments and along polished floors. The streets of my suburb are festooned in flashing lights and blow up Santas. Almost 200 years since the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (otherwise known as The Night Before Christmas) was published, establishing much of the modern Santa mythology, Santa Claus may have reached peak popularity.
The modern parent can now download apps to spoof calls from the North Pole, or add a child to Santa’s ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’ list with the swipe of a finger.
So established is Santa as the bringer of Christmas joy, some parents have admitted that they hope their children always believe.
And then there are the parents who don’t do Santa. It might be because of their religion, because their child challenged the concept from a very early age or that Santa simply doesn’t fit in to their cultural framework. Here are three mothers who will not be dressing the children up for Santa photos this year.
Fiona is a mother of four. Her personal belief as a Christian is that Santa is the antithesis of everything Christmas is about.
“Santa, so goes the myth, gives presents to those who are good, whereas we believe Jesus came for everyone precisely because we can't be good. Jesus loves everyone and his gift is for everyone freely whether they are poor or rich.”
Fiona feels that the Santa myth also promotes inequity and is hurtful to those with limited ability to indulge at the shops at Christmas.
“Santa gives nice presents to kids from rich families and cheap presents to kids in poor families, or even none at all if the family is really poor. To me that's so evil and wrong”, she says.
Amy is a writer and mother of one. She says she hadn’t thought much about Santa before having children.
“The first two years you don't need to actually think about it: they have no concept of what Christmas is, let alone the characters we attach to the season. All they see are flying rips of wrapping paper. After that, I just approached it as it being something I didn't want to intrude into our family. I just avoided the topic when it arose. Eventually, it got to the point where I would start saying "what things would you like for Christmas? What would you like to get others?" It was more about the exchange than defined characters.”
At the age of five or so Amy’s daughter started to ask questions about the guy in the red suit. “The discussion then centred around what Christmas means around the world and how there are different interpretations," says Amy. “We also discussed how some people really believe in him and that it's a good idea to not ruin that for anyone. In a sense, she really responded to being "let in" on the secret.”
At about the age that Kristen’s oldest child should have been knee deep in embracing Santa (three-and-a-half), she had already "cracked the code."
Her daughter Juliet has ASD, and in her case this means she prefers having a clear delineation between fact and fantasy.
“It seemed rather ridiculous to go to great lengths to try to salvage the Santa myth when she was already fine with the fact that he wasn't real. She was only too happy to clue her little brother in when he was old enough to process things,” says Kristen.
A year later, when Juliet lost her first tooth, she blew her parents away by announcing; "The tooth fairy isn't real, just like Santa isn't real ... I think they are both spirits that make people do nice things." So Kristen had a solution - in her household, "Santa is a spirit that makes people do nice things!"
All three mothers still celebrate Christmas with their children. Amy says her daughter Aurora “loves the day, loves the family contact, loves the presents - but she appears to be completely fine without all the accoutrements.”
They also eschew the idea that a Santa-less Christmas is one without joy and magic, For Fiona, it’s precisely the opposite.
“We believe in an amazing, all-powerful, invisible God, and in angels who are his messengers. We tell the Christmas story which is full of miracles and which we believe is completely real. I don't want to mix what I believe are 'magical' but true events with a pretend fantasy about a man in a red suit. My kids get plenty of magic and fun and excitement at Christmas without Santa. I do warn the younger ones not to tell their friends they don't believe though.”
Kristen’s family have developed their own unique traditions to make the day special.
“We have some traditions that our kids absolutely cherish, including making an evening out of seeing the Christmas lights in Davidson [in Northern Sydney]) the Friday before Christmas, decorating our tree with unconventional ornaments (this year, we decorated it with 80+ Zhu Zhu pets), and most of all, spending the morning at the beach.”
“I don't think that the "magic of Christmas" is necessarily dependent on Santa, or having snow, or being surrounded by a million relatives, or having a tonne of gifts to open. For us, the magic of Christmas is primarily the joy of the season - enjoying Christmas concerts at school, finally having time to unwind and spend time with loved ones, remembering the less fortunate and taking time to thank people who have made their year special.”