Do you believe in Santa Claus?

My favorite Christmas movie has always been Miracle on 34th Street.  The original 1947 version starring Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn, John Payne, and Natalie Wood.  (That is a link to the full movie, free to watch online.)

Every year, I’d tear up during the scene where Kris speaks Dutch to the little refugee girl and they sing Sinterklass Kapoentje together. (If you’ve always wondered what Kris and the little girl are saying, it is translated here for you.)

I love the message of the movie – the belief in kindness, in love, and joy, and all the other intangibles – “the only things that are worthwhile.”  Believing even when you don’t get what you want the first time.  Even when common sense tells you not to.

I loved watching Susan come to believe, watching Doris, her mom, believe, too.  I loved watching Macy and Gimble try to use Kris as a marketing ploy, and Mr. Sawyer try to take him down, only to get his comeuppance.

It was all magic to me.

Yet, I never believed in Santa myself.  We woke to presents under the tree, but I don’t recall any talk of Santa bringing them.  He was fun; we loved all the Christmas specials, but he was a non-issue.

With my own children, we read the same Santa stories, watched the Santa specials, had photos taken with him at the mall to give to my in-laws, and it was all just fun.  We didn’t pretend Santa was real, but we enjoyed him just the same.  My family loves Christmas, and we all spent the day together, playing games, talking, eating, just being together.  It was all exciting to my little boys.

I thought it would be that simple.  Just like my own childhood.

The pressure to make my kids believe in Santa Claus took me by surprise.  I did not realize how many adults felt they had a vested interest in Santa.

My in-laws thought I was some sort of anti-Santa fanatic.  The fact that my husband hated Christmas celebrations of all sorts seemed to escape their notice.  If it had been left to him there’d have been no tree or presents, either.  (I do not believe his feelings about holidays are related to Santa or any other holiday character, but I’ve never asked.)

It wasn’t just them, though.  Strangers would ask my tots what Santa was bringing them, and the poor boys would look confused or say, “Santa is make-believe.”  Then the adults would argue with them.

Who argues with a random three year old in the grocery store?

By the time they were talking, I had informed them that they were not to tell other children that Santa was pretend, explaining that some parents liked their children to believe he was real.  They understood, and were good about it.

The children were never the problem, though.  It was the adults who were determined to make an issue over believing in Santa, and who perplexed my kids and me.  Why did so many of them keep asking about Santa?  It wasn’t like any of them believed in him; my kids weren’t spoiling their Christmas.

It didn’t stop when they were little, either. People were still asking them if they’d made lists for Santa when they were nine and ten years old.  By then, they were thoroughly puzzled because none of their age-mates still believed in Santa.

It was a complete reversal of the Miracle on 34th Street I’d always loved.  Or maybe it wasn’t.  Adults were still trying to take away Christmas joy from my boys.  They were forcing materialism on them by asking about wish lists when what my sons were truly excited about was having all the family over and playing with their new toys.  (What child does not love to whomp the aunts and uncles at a game of Hungry, Hungry, Hippos?)

I think those people had forgotten about the lovely intangibles that Mr. Gailey lectured Doris about.  They were so concerned about doing things their way, that there was no room in their minds for people who just wanted to bake – and eat – dozens of cookies, go to church as a family, and play games all day long.  They had a formula for Christmas success, and we were not following it.

I once asked my mom if she’d dealt with the same thing, and she said no.  She’d never heard of such craziness.  Apparently Santa was not such a hot issue in the 60’s and 70’s as it was in the 90’s.

Every year, people would lecture me on how I was robbing my children of their childhood.  Really?  My kids seemed happy, not deprived, and they really didn’t care who was buying the lego sets or action figures.

To this day, I still do not get the controversy.  I have never once quizzed someone on the reasons they do Santa.  I’ve never suggested to a child that he is not real.  I’ve never accused the Santa adherents of ruining their child with lies.  It would have been nice to have been treated with the same respect, but not everyone seems capable of that.

That’s okay.  I had Miracle on 34th Street to comfort me.  I knew that the Sawyers of the world would be shown up in the end.  No matter how hard they try to make others fit their mold, to see problems where there aren’t any, to create discord, they are the ones who will ultimately suffer for their small minded meanness.  Our Christmases were splendid.

I hope yours are, too, whether Santa visits your house or not.

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11 thoughts on “Do you believe in Santa Claus?

  1. This post made me a little sad. I’ve noticed other people making such an effort to rob people of joy and I just don’t understand it. If people are happily enjoying themselves why do some people want to take that joy away? Adults do that with children all of the time and I don’t think they even realize it. You wrote about adults questioning your kids about Santa and it reminded me of when I was young and adults were always asking me if I had a boyfriend. At the age of eight I thought it was weird that an adult would expect me to have a boyfriend and it made me uncomfortable. There is an insinuation that if you don’t have a boyfriend there must be something wrong with you (or if you aren’t making lists for Santa). It seems like some adults just don’t think of children as people and so they don’t talk to them beyond the superficial canned greeting or in appropriate ways. I don’t know why, but that always bothers me.

    I found out pretty early that Santa wasn’t real, but I still enjoyed the ideas behind Santa. It’s nice to think that their is a jolly adult out their spreading joy, love and excitement all over the world. Santa is really just a symbol. I think people should be able to believe how they want to about things and I think it is ridiculous to say a childhood without the fantasy of Santa is a bad one. I know some people who bought a bike for their granddaughter and were upset because the parents wanted to say it was from Santa. They wanted their granddaughter to know it was from them. They wanted her to know that they were paying attention when she expressed excitement over seeing other kids on bikes. They wanted her to know they loved her enough to listen to her. I think that is more important than believing an imaginary man brought presents down the chimney.

    • That is sad about the grandparents and the bicycle, but not hard for me to believe. Someone once told me that she didn’t want the grandparents’ gifts to ever be better than the Santa gifts, so she would give them lists of second-tier items to buy.

      The “Do you have a boyfriend?” question is a whole other mind-boggling piece of insanity.

  2. great post. i never understood why adults who are strangers feel like they can say things to your children as if they had the right. my daughter’s favorite doll when she was 4 or 5 was a strawberry shortcake doll that she saw in a thrift store. she took her everywhere, called her “strawberry cake”. she had seen better days that doll, but was well loved. one day in the grocery, the woman ahead of us, looked at strawberry cake and asked her what her doll’s name was. i thought it was just going to be a nice little diversion while we stood in line. then she said “maybe some day your mother will buy you a pretty doll”. a few days later, my daughter had somehow found a marker and made a mess on the faces of all her dolls. when i asked her why she said “now all my dolls look like strawberry cake so she can pretty now too”. while i am by nature slow to anger, if i could have found that woman, i would have throttled her. not because the dolls were wrecked but because of how she made my little one feel.

    • What a snide remark! It’s like the woman thought your daughter would not hear or understand what she was saying. How mean! And, again, an adult with a preconceived idea of what was right or beautiful forcing it on a happy and innocent child. Joy-robbers.

  3. Oh this post was sad but the story about the dolls was even sadder 😦

    Princess says that the shock on her classes face when they discovered we didn’t do Santa AND that she had no intention of playing the manipulative behaviour modification game with her own kids was amazing. Kept asking her and telling others how mean her parents were.

    We played Santa as a fun idea, celebrated St Nicholas’s Day (Dec 6th) with practical gifts, reminded the kids that he existed, read bits about him and then the rest is just a game. Shame others can’t leave such things alone.

  4. As you know I just wrote a post about Santa Claus too. You wondered why other parents choose to have their children believe in Santa and I tried to answer that somewhat in my post. I know for us it’s more about the magic of Christmas. Santa is a representation of good will and the giving spirit. As our three-year-old gets older I know he will stop his belief of Santa. I plan on telling him about the spirit of giving and sometimes its better to give than to receive. So, to answer why parents do Santa, we do it to keep the spirit of Christmas alive.

    Aaron 🙂

    • I am not criticizing the decision to do Santa, or asking for justification, just wishing others had not criticized me for my decision, or harassed my children about it. I hope that by sharing my experiences here, maybe some other family will be treated more respectfully.

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