When people find out we do not pretend Santa is real we hear that we have robbed our children of the magic of Christmas. Words like “joy” and “wonder” are offered as additional experiences we have intentionally removed from our children’s’ Holiday Season. The irony of this gets me every time.
Are those children who “believe in” Santa really experiencing such magic, joy, and wonder at Christmastime? They have an Elf who watches their every move and is ready to report each meltdown, disagreement, and negative feeling expressed to the big guy at the North Pole. Once these “bad behaviors” (which are actually just big emotions or unmet needs) are reported to Santa, children either need to work their way out of debt or forego the best part of Christmas for them: the gifts. Which does this fear elicit- joy, wonder, or magic?
Not only does the Elf provide a constant surveillance system, but all year long Santa is creating his naughty or nice list- and parents use it to manage their children’s behavior and feelings. If a child is having a hard time, does not want to eat their Brussels Sprouts, or is overtired, the “no Santa this year” is threatened. What message does that send? It seems to me it forces children to suppress their very real emotions and feelings in the interest of making sure they get toys this year. Ugh.
We may be surprised if we pause to look at whether or not our children are experiencing joy and wonder during Christmastime. If we are able to objectively reflect on their experience we may realize that the holidays not only lack joy, wonder, and magic, but they create a heightened period of anxiety, stress, and fear for children. For kids, the holidays are filled with disconnection from their parents. Instead of working through big emotion we threaten. Instead of overcoming our own triggers to stay calm during a meltdown and console our child, we point to the Elf to make our children suppress their feelings. Instead of finding out what our child does like for dinner we tell them they get what they get and don’t get upset or Santa won’t come.
It is easy for us parents to dismiss the fear we instill in our children- we know it’s not real. But our children trust us. They believe us. Our children understand our words to be true and literal. We are their parents, why shouldn’t they? Instead of creating a sense of joy and wonder we are teaching our children that acting human will get them no presents. On top of this, our rules are often arbitrary, unrealistic, and completely out of context. Our children move through the holidays trying to remember what they are supposed to do (not what feels right) so that their presents are not given to children other than them. Does any of this sound like joy, wonder, or magic?
Through my many, many conversations about not pretending Santa is real it seems like “joy”, “wonder”, and “magic” are the ultimate goal parents strive for each Holiday season, but our actions are not lining up with creating that.
Not every parent uses Santa as a behavior management tool. Some parents use kindness elves instead of “the” Elf. The mainstream message is clear though: Santa is watching. The Elf is watching. If a child doesn’t change their behavior the moment a reminder of this is given, their Christmas is ruined. Their Christmas is ruined. That is what we are threatening! To ruin our children’s’ Christmas! We are threatening that all. year. long. Our kids live in constant wonderment of whether or not they get to be a part of Santa’s journey this year! Is this the wonderment we want them to have?
Maybe this year we can consider giving our children the ultimate Christmas gift: one of a peaceful, joyful, threat-free holiday season. One that chooses connection over fear, gives a hug instead of a back hand, pauses to see that those tears and fears are real, and wonders why we are instilling paranoia and anxiety in our children instead of joy and wonder. Maybe this season we can step outside of ourselves, look at our children, and give them what it is we really want them to have: joy, magic, wonder and peace.
Many think that Christmas is not magical without Santa. I disagree. Read it by clicking here.