“Santa Claus, we love you”

Santa Breakfast-HitherAndThither-2

We had breakfast with Santa on Saturday morning and when the big guy in the red suit walked into the room, bellowing “Ho ho ho! Good morning everyone!” Hudson yelled out “Good morning Santa, we love you!”

He hadn’t shown that much interest in Santa before Friday night. We sat down to write a letter (having given it a try the night prior, but having aborted when someone had too strong a need to wiggle), and he drew a picture for Santa—a page covered in hearts—and asked me to show him how to write “I love you, Santa Claus.”

As for the letter, we asked some leading questions about any stories he’d tell that would demonstrate how he’d done good. And “do you want to ask Santa for anything?” (FYI: He hugs and kisses Skyler even though she pinches and bites. And he’d like a dreidel and a nutcracker that can crack medium nuts.)

Santa Breakfast-HitherAndThither-1

The whole morning meeting Santa was so sweet. We couldn’t believe the same little boy who once shied from Santa was now calling to him like a crazed fan, drawing him love letters, and asking him what he could get him for Christmas. (Perhaps a book to read to his reindeer at night. “A long one with much stories.” Be still my heart.)

Then, later that same afternoon, we went to a friend’s house for an annual holiday party and Santa showed up again. Aron and I shot nervous glances at each other and then I heard Hudson asking the much younger man with the overly glossy beard, “do you remember what I gave you for Christmas, Santa?”

Oh no, I thought.

“I like cookies and milk, very much!” said Santa.

Hudson looked a little crestfallen. Or maybe it was just me, on his behalf.

“I drew you a picture. With hearts.”

“Yes, I liked that picture very much.”


And with that, Hudson was back in line to sit on another Santa’s lap, again telling on his baby sister, again asking for both a dreidel and a nutcracker.

Next Wednesday, we’ll meet another Santa when we ride the Polar Express. And so the whole thing has got me thinking more about the ways we explain this whole Santa Claus business. How do you explain those guys at malls and the like? Do you?

Aron has a strict no-gifts-in-the-stocking-before-Christmas policy: “that’s the closest you ever come to ‘proving’ the existence of Santa.” “Only Santa leaves gifts in stockings,” he said incredulously, as if it were true.

His mother once told him that only a few small gifts ever came from Santa on Christmas morning, so that when he one day stopped believing, his disappointment would be tempered.

Most of the families I know who foster the Santa narrative have him bring just a few of their gifts (my cousin wrapped the Santa gifts in red paper), and stick fairly close to the Night Before Christmas version of the tale. A “jolly old elf” in a big red suit, with rosy cheeks, who can magically fit down a chimney to deliver presents to good, sleeping children.

And because so many of these families have very young children, we all agree we have no idea whether any of this is going to prove to be a bad idea. Did anyone listen to the This American Life episode about the great lengths parents go to bring the magic of Christmas home for their kids?

“A quick warning for people listening with young children, this is a story about one family’s Santa Claus traditions, which may not be the same as yours,” it begins.

And there’s a family who had one way of dealing with all the Santas:

“There wasn’t just one Santa but a network of Santas all working together as Christmas helpers. Kris Kringle was just one of them, a working man’s Santa. And just like a guy on a night shift from hell, he was exhausted.”

I won’t spoil it too much for you. It’s worth a listen. But eventually one of the children tells an interviewer about the impact of learning his parents had lied about Santa for years:  “For me, there was a big breakdown in the way I trusted people in my life that actually, I think it carried on into my adult life. And even to this day, I don’t 100% trust anyone anymore.”

Now this is an extreme story (and an extremely funny one), but don’t think it didn’t come to mind when I suddenly heard Hudson yell across a room “we love you!” to  Santa Claus.

So what’s your story? Do you have a Santa Claus (or Kris Kringle, or Saint Nick) coming to your house? How does it work? What lengths do you go to to preserve the illusion? And what do you do when faced with questions of logic? And if you believed once yourself, how did that end?

P.S. Finally, if you haven’t read or listened to David Sedaris’ short story on different Christmas traditions around the world, “Six to Eight Black Men,” you should remedy that immediately. In fact, his whole holiday collection is filled with hilarious, irreverent things you should read every Christmas.

[A transcript of the This America Life episode, 482]

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