Have you seen the question here on CM about the "Santa Lie?" It's in various places. It crops up and some, often times "anonymous" posters, incredulously marvel at how we parents could present our children with such bold face lies. I'm talking about things like this: "Why would Anyone Lie. . ."
Lie and tell my child Santa is real? Now this is where you lose me. You mean Santa is not real? Frankly, to me he is.
When I learned Santa, in terms of that big jolly elf, wasn't real I was about 10 years old. I was not heartbroken. I didn't feel cheated or lied to. At that very moment, in fact, I felt quite 'grown-up' at being let in on the secret and very much excited about helping keep it alive for my little brother. My parents told me then exactly what I will tell my children when the time comes - Santa may not be a single person but he is real. As long as you or I carry the spirit of giving and charity in our hearts, he's real.
Don't get me wrong. I do not confuse the guy in red to the guy on the cross. My kids are very well aware that our family celebrates Christmas as recognition of Christ's birthday. In addition to the tree and the stockings and the holly and all that other good Christmas decor, we toss up a "Happy Birthday" banner and make a birthday cake. Santa, in our family at least, brings his presents as part of that celebration much in the way the Magi brought their gifts. Santa is giving without expecting to get. He's giving because seeing other people happy makes HIM happy. In our family, Santa is giving to honor HE who gave everything.
But back to the topic itself. . .
My family does not limit our giving and charity to one time of year. My children are very much involved with us in supporting a number of various organizations. My now 7 and 5 year old have been helping deliver Meals on Wheels, delivering library books to homebound seniors, conducting food drives, and many other programs since infancy. My son's first experience came as a 2 month old infant in a stroller walking in the annual CROP walk to raise funds for hunger relief programs. They do these things because *we* do these things. They know we do them because it's the right thing to do.
Of course, seeing someone else (Santa) do it on a global scale is pretty cool too. The holiday season is a busy one in our household, as it is in many of yours. The highlight for my kids this weekend? They got to go to the toy store and pick out several different items. These were not items for them. They were items we were purchasing for two different toy drives we were participating in this season through our church and Scouts. My kids were given a set dollar figure we could afford to spend and tasked with spending it well. They both picked items that they personally are longing for. They knew these were not for them. They also knew, however, that kids their age would be thrilled to receive them. They understood that these gifts were going to kids whose families could not afford to buy them gifts. Both of mine, again ages 7 and 5, said to me at different times, "This is like getting to be Santa. I'm so excited!"
When we dropped off our gifts to each drive it was very apparent that my two were not alone in this excitement. Their peers were very excited to be giving - to be Santa. They loved the idea of knowing someone else would wake up to find a surprise under their trees -- surprise gifts that arrived from people the recipent had never and would never meet. The idea that they could make someone else happy by secret giving was as thrilling to them as getting their own surprise gifts next week. They never once questioned why these children couldn't just get gifts from Santa. They seemed to get it - that they personally got gifts from their famillies and from the big guy. Why shouldn't these other children too.
To me *THAT* is what Santa is about. It's why Santa is as real to me as he was when I was 5. Sure, there are a lot of grumps in the Target parking lot this month. There are a lot of snotty folks in line ready to snap over a Zhu Zhu pet shortage. There are also, however, people who will go just a little bit extra this time of year because they get caught up in the spirit of the season. There are the people who don't usually think twice about making a donation here or there that drop a few bucks in the Salvation Army bucket. There are the people who surprise a neighbor with tray of cookies or take a moment to say an extra thanks to someone that's been working hard unnoticed. *This* is Santa in motion. He's the personification of holiday induced empathy and compassion.
Some of us carry it around all year long. Others let it get a little lost sometime around January 2nd or whever it is their tree comes down. Sure, we could teach it to our children without telling them about Santa. We could. If that's what you opt to do - well good for you. I, and millions of other's like me, don't see the harm of giving "it" a name and a face.
When my child comes to me, as he has already this year, and said "Is Santa real?" I answer with "What do you think?" Right now he has million and one reasons to support the idea that Santa is. And so I nod and hug him tight - thankful that in a world where his 7 year old peers are swooning over High School Musical characters and trying their hardest to be little adults, my child is still happy being a child with wonderment and innocence.
When he comes to me and says "Is Santa real?" I reply "What do you think?" When the day comes that he tells me he doesn't think so, I'll ask him why. When it's clear he's no longer buying into the fantasy, I'll tell him exactly what I've told you here. I'll tell him about the historical figure of St. Nicholas. I'll tell him about how a bit of Santa lives in all our hearts as long as we embrace empathy, compassion and charity. I'll tell him that I want him to help me be Santa now for his sister and for his little cousins. . .and for all those people we give to without waiting to get in return.