Tuesday, December 19, 2006
If You Don't Write to Santa, the Terrorists Win
Let's just get this out there and in the open now, rather than continuing to allow you all to wonder and suspect without confirmation: I am a bad American. It's true. I do lots of good-American things, like standing during the National Anthem and not clubbing baby seals and not wearing flag-print panties, but when it comes down to the big thing, the important act, the one thing that sets America apart from the rest of the world, I don't meet minimum expectations.

I'm talking, of course, about the commercialism of Christmas, and writing letters to Santa. Simply put, we don't. We don't do Santa. We don't write letters, or bribe my kids that if they don't behave they won't get presents, or leave out cookies and milk. For real, we don't.

(I'll just sit here and wait until you overcome the faintness that will naturally overcome you at the realization that I'm such a bad example of consumerism and materialism.)

(Feeling better? Good.)

I just hate the whole attitude, that Christmas is all about what you get. I have worked hard to shift the focus onto what my kids can give or make, even if it's as simple as some scribbles on a piece of paper or something. We sit down with a list of family members and talk about each person, and what they would like best, and we try to cater gifts, blah blah blah... just like you do when you're a grown-up, but without the credit card. I don't try and pretend like it's more fun to give presents than to get them, but I talk about how we can control what we give, and we can ask for certain gifts but we smile and say "thank you" even when it's a lame bad present.

Plus - and this is important - I, frankly, want credit for the gifts I give to the kids. I want them to know that it was Mom who picked it out or made it, not a bunch of elves or some fat guy; just like how I want to give credit to them for their work instead of praising some imaginary elf.

I don't want them to feel like this Santa Claus guy is basically a catalog: you send your list and he responds by checking off items based on your behavior. Emotional blackmail just doesn't appeal to me, somehow, even when it's geared in the direction of making kids behave. How's about they behave because it feels better to be nice to people, rather than because if they sit still or eat their peas they'll get one more package under the tree?

Besides, the whole Santa thing is so all-or-nothing. You either get presents, or you get crap. Literally, in some cases; I saw a display in Walmart the other day, of packages of petrified reindeer turds "For the Bad Boy on Your List." Now that I think about it, my father actually got that from his parents about 20 years ago... though by then he was 27ish (yeah, do the math, my parents are babies) and chances are he recognized it as a joke rather than as a punishment.

So, it bugs me, this whole expectation that I've had my kids write to Santa, that my kids have asked Santa for stuff, that Santa will bring presents and joy and world peace. I'm all for magic in the world, but it seems like there actually is plenty of magic out there every day, in the patterns and coincidences and interactions of nature and faily life, without having to invent a big guy in a red suit with flying reindeer who administers retail bliss upon the masses.

This allows me to avoid the awkwardness of questions like, "But if Santa gives things to kids who are good, how come poor kids don't get stuff? How come Jewish kids don't get stuff from Santa? How come not everyone gets everything they want?" Because it's not about Santa, and because different people believe different things, and because life isn't fair.

It also allows me to avoid the gimme-gimme-gimme attitude that society seems to not only expect but encourage. A couple of weeks ago, there was a Christmas breakfast at Emily's school (God bless New Hampshire, we don't even pretend to recognize religious diversity). On the tables, there were some coloring pages and crayons, activities to keep the kids busy, when not running around and spazzing each other out, while the parents ate. One of those pages was along the lines of:
Dear Santa:
I want _________________________________

No "please." No "thank you." No "How are you?" Just, "I want." I was appalled.

My kids didn't fill one out.

So, yeah. I'm a bad American. I don't encourage my kids to feed into the commercial frenzy of the holidays. I talk with them about what they would like to get, and I explain that I'll share those wishes with family and people who care about them, and they might or might not get what they ask for. But what matters more is the time they spend thinking about what to give to the people they care about, and then the time they actually get to spend with those people.

And, of course, what matters the most of all is that they give lots and lots of stuff to Mom. Right?