Back in 2004, my first-grade daughter had to write a “book” on famous people for homework. She threw the papers on the kitchen floor and wailed, “I can’t do this! I don’t know any famous people.”
The 2004 election was just weeks away so I said, “There’s John Kerry or George Bush.”
“I don’t WANT to do George Bush!” She stomped out of the room.
Awhile later, she came back happy. “I figured it out. I can do Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy, and Mickey Mouse.”
“Do the famous people have to be real?” I asked.
She looked at me like I’m an idiot. “Santa and the Tooth Fairy ARE REAL!” she shrieked, then thoughtfully, “I’ll have to ask my teacher if it’s OK to do Mickey Mouse.”
Once again I felt the dilemma that our family participates in the myth of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. In the words of my brother-in-law, we’ve chosen to LIE to our children about magical creatures. Some of my Christian friends would say I’ve chosen to allow Santa to steal the glory of Jesus at Christmas.
Guilty, guilty, guilty.
My choices are ironic because Santa brought much humiliation to my life as a child.
By about 1st grade I began doubting whether Santa was real.
“Well if you don’t believe in Santa, I guess he can’t bring you any presents,” was Mama’s reply. . . for the next SEVEN years.
I don’t know why that argument swayed me since Santa was a notoriously bad gift giver. Many years we awoke to find our stockings drooping on their hooks–absolutely empty. The presents on the piano bench weren’t always much better. One particularly infamous year I received a large clamshell from Santa. When I say large, I mean large—it was about 12 inches wide, 4 inches deep.
So why did I decide to LIE to my kids about Santa? Because even though I argued with Mama about him, even though he gave terrible presents, even though he was the star of Christmas and not Jesus, Santa brought the best magic and fun our family experienced all year.
Mama loved Christmas with an almost unholy gusto. This Chinese immigrant, who moved to America when she was thirteen, embraced every tinsel-covered trapping of the American commercialized Christmas season she could afford. In contrast with her childhood in China spent escaping from the Japanese and memories of hunger, she lavished the wonder, opulence and celebration she never had on us.
And I wanted to give our kids some of the same wonder and joy.
In my defense, I didn’t bold-face lie. I let my husband do it. I never told my kids Santa was real. I just didn’t say he wasn’t. And in the age-old Tuan tradition, I made sure Santa brought them crap—slippers, banks, Christmas books. The fun presents came from us because I didn’t want Santa getting the glory.
Santa gives terrible gifts. The Tooth Fairy forgets to come for months at a time. But I’m trusting that Jesus (who even in my most atheistic moments I desperately hope is real—this is why it’s called faith) will actually show up for me and my kids.
On Christmas and every day.