I have found myself annoyed this year with the Santa vs No-Santa debate among mothers with nothing else to do but argue on the internet and feel smug.
In my house we do talk about Santa a little. I don't make a big deal out of it, but he does fill the stockings with some fruit and candy that the children get to eat on Christmas morning. We focus on what Christmas means to us and to our faith but there is time for the fun and magic of Santa. If the kids ask point blank if he is "real" I don't fib to them.
I really made the decision to include Santa in our celebrations after talking to a friend of mine years ago when our kids were tiny. She said there wasn't very many years in life where you had the privilege of believing in magic. That resonated with me and now, 9 years later, the kids believe in dragons and fairies and gnomes and many other magical things that bring joy and sometimes gifts into their lives.
It doesn't really matter of course- the great "Santa Debate". But yesterday I was listening to the radio on the way home from dropping the kids off at school. There was a story on NPR about the postal service in Brazil working to grant Christmas wishes that children had sent to Santa Clause via letter.
It was tragic and touching all at the same time. Children didn't ask for iPads but simple toys. Some asked for things even more simple, like a bed to sleep in in their tiny shack of a home.
"Maria Marisa Laureano answers the door. Her daughter has asked for three beds for her and her two sisters. When we go into the one-room home, we see only one large bed where Laureano says she and her children all sleep. A pot of food is cooking in the corner, and clothes are strewn on the floor. It's dark and crowded, and the walls are so thin you can hear the neighbors talking.The new beds barely fit in the house. Laureano says they are hoping to move."It's been three months since I moved here," she says, "but there are a lot of termites. Some nights we can't sleep. They fly and walk on the bed, on us, they bite. Life has been very hard."She begins to cry."We wrote a letter but we didn't know if we would get anything. I don't even have words," she says. "I thank Father Christmas a lot.""
This of course made me cry. But it also got me thinking.
Many of us are so blessed that we can easily forego silly traditions and thoughts about magic and generous old men who drop of gifts that we couldn't buy ourselves. We can buy our own beds and our own presents. We don't depend on miracles any more, do we?
Maybe the recent trend to smugly forget about Santa is less a sign of annoying parents and more a symbol of our times. We are so blessed, so overrun with things and stuff and furniture and gifts that we no longer wait on a miracle for things we most need.
In that story, the mother, not the child, was grateful for the kindness of strangers and the miracle of Papa Noel. Of course she recognized that it was real people not the oddly dressed and bearded man who brought these gifts into her home. She also recognized that there were things she couldn't do for herself and that she needed the help of others.
In our family we have had Christmases where we couldn't buy things for our children. But by some miracle, somebody knew, and a bag was delivered, full of treats and toys for our children.
No, it wasn't really Santa who brought those gifts. It was simply a thoughtful stranger or friend who secretly created a miracle for us and for our children. How can I tell them that miracles don't happen today when they do? How can I smugly assert that "We buy you all the gifts," when we don't?
It seems that the fact that we no longer need this mythical but compassionate man in our lives is because we really are so blessed we no longer need miracles like food or beds for our children. I don't care what people tell their children about Santa. But it is time recognized that it is a only because of our bounty that we no longer need little blessings of magic like an orange in a slipper left by a kindly saint.
If you don't need to believe in Santa any more then congratulations. But some people still need miracles. It isn't really about Santa or fairies or reindeer. Believing in something beyond us that bring us the things we need, but can't do for ourselves- I think that is what we reject when we reject all these simple stories. And yes, I do think it is sad that we are starting to teach our children that they don't really need anybody but themselves.