Saturday, December 20, 2014

Why We Do "Do" Santa

My parents did not "do" Santa with my little brother and me.

I'm fairly certain this was my mom's idea. My mom didn't want to tell us something false was true, to lie to us, thereby discrediting everything else our parents told us - as if Santa Claus was an orange at the bottom of a carefully stacked grocery-store orange display. If we discovered they had lied to us about Santa, we would question them about everything else.

We would question our parents about God.

Not believing in Santa, and not understanding that we were in the minority of children who did not believe in Santa, caused its own problem one evening. We were at some store and my brother - who was two - said he wanted to be Santa Claus when he grew up, and I - six years old - said that he couldn't be Santa because Santa didn't exist. Well, a woman nearby heard me, and her son heard me, and she scolded me and called me a liar. Merry Christmas.

Had it been my choice, we wouldn't have "done" Santa. I would have done it my mother's way, explaining to my daughter that Santa was make-believe, like Mickey Mouse... except I don't think that would have worked at this age because I'm fairly certain she believes Mickey Mouse is real. Because of my own experience, I would have told her not to go around telling other children that Santa is make-believe... except then I would have been encouraging her to lie by omission, right?

We don't "do" Santa in an elaborate way. We don't have an Elf on the Shelf or leave him cookies. We do say that Santa brings presents. He doesn't bring all of the presents. I don't expect her belief in Santa to last any longer than her belief that Mickey Mouse really lives at Disneyland, and I'm not worried about what she'll think of me when she finds out Mickey is a person in a costume.
My Armenian grandmother, a woman who made Christ the center of her life, raised her three children "doing" Santa, and all three of them are Christians with Christian children. In the boxes of photos and documents, the artifacts of my grandmother's life, we found a letter she had typed to her children one Christmas, pretending to be Santa Claus. In it, she wrote about being good and telling them where "he" had hidden their presents.

I think about my grandmother secretly typing that letter as part of a game of make believe, and I think about her saving it for more than forty years. I wonder if she ever, while going through old photographs, took it out and read it to herself. I'm sure she did. I imagine her smiling, remembering how excited my dad and uncle and aunt were that Christmas morning. And I think about my dad and uncle and aunt and me standing around her kitchen table, after her death, sorting through pictures and passports and letters, and finding the envelope on which she had lovingly typed From Santa Clause.

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