We have never told our children about Santa, either his alleged existence, or his non-existence. The news of Santa first came into our family through our eldest daughter, who picked up word of his coming at her pre-school, when she was about four. She was a bit dubious about it, but on Christmas morning, when there were presents at the end of her bed, and at the end of her sisters’ bed, all in pillowcases as is our family tradition, she became an enthusiastic believer. She has always been a good empiricist.
By the next year, Santa-belief was in full swing in our household. So far, so good, all without us having to utter a word. But by the year following that, some doubts were beginning to emerge. Fortunately, Santa to our rescue that year. We don’t like Barbie dolls, and we had told our daughters that we would not buy them Barbie dolls. Our eldest daughter had bought her own Barbie dolls – it was her money, so I didn’t want to tell her that she couldn’t spend it as she wished – and our younger daughters wanted them too. So that year, Santa gave them Barbie dolls. “You see,” we said, when six months later our by then seven year old daughter mentioned the possibility that Santa was a sham, “we would never give you Barbie dolls, and your younger sisters got Barbie dolls from Santa last year, so Santa must be true.”
Belief shored up for another year. However, Miss Seven, by the time she became Miss Eight just a few weeks before Christmas, admitted that she knew it wasn’t true, and that really, the previous year, she had just been faking it. However, she promised to keep the pretence up, for the sake of the Misses Five.
But I goofed. Earlier this year, we visited my parents at Easter. We had a pleasant few days in Taranaki, and then got up early one morning to start the drive back down to Wellington – about four and a half hours if you are travelling alone, but about six hours on the road, minimum, if you are travelling with children. As we drove out of New Plymouth, a voice from the back complained. “Mum, why didn’t the Easter Bunny bring us any Easter eggs?”
While I happily go along with Santa belief, Easter Bunny belief is just one commercialism too far. So I told Miss Five that (a) there had been no Easter Bunny when I was young, (b) that people just made the Easter Bunny up to trick parents into buying more Easter eggs for children and (c) that in any case, they had eaten plenty of Easter eggs.
A few hours later, as well pulled out of Wanganui, after the obligatory stop at Kowhai Park, the same small voice came from the back. “But Mum, if the Easter Bunny isn’t true, and it’s just your parents telling you that it is true, then maybe Santa Claus is just your parents too.”
So Miss Eight admitted that she didn’t really believe, and one Miss Five expressed some doubts. The other Miss Five, a child who likes to make the world conform with her preferred visions, stoutly asserted that she still believed in Santa Claus, and in fact that she was going to keep on believing, and she would be getting presents and the other two wouldn’t.
As the big day grew closer, we went to visit Santa in the local mall. Miss Nine hung back, but the two Miss Sixes were very keen to have a chat to him about what they would like for Christmas. The previous year, when we had visited Santa, he had told them that they must eat their vegetables. That evening, at dinner, one Miss Five said, “Right, Mum. Which ones are the vegetables? I have to eat them, so Santa will come.” Excellent!
This year’s Santa was just as helpful. “Well girls,” he said to the Misses Six. “You have to keep your rooms tidy.” So as soon as we got home, they shot upstairs to tidy up their rooms. Miss Nine just left hers in its usual shambolic state.
By Christmas Eve it was very apparent that there were no atheists in foxholes. Excitement was intense, made even more so when my mother put a row of candles down the drive to light Santa in. I read The Night Before Christmas to the assembled children – my own three, and my niece and nephew. Empiricist Miss Nine decided to set up an experiment for Santa. Last year, she had tested whether Santa preferred milk or brandy. Santa rejected the milk, and drank all the brandy. This year, she refined the experiment, leaving out whiskey, and brandy. Which one would Santa drink?
As it turned out, Santa drank both. Clear evidence that he is a sot.
The children enjoyed this Christmas, with the trifles from Santa, and some more interesting things from us. In some ways, I dislike pandering to the rampant commercialism of buying more and more presents for people to show that you love them, and the even worse exploitation of the St Nicholas myth. But the children find it magical. And why shouldn’t they have a little magic in their lives, and just one day in the year that is about delighting children?
I hope you have had a pleasant Christmas. Thank you for reading my blog this year, and I hope to see you again in the New Year.