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.