In Mexico, where I’m from, kids get presents from the Three Wise Men (aka the Three Kings) on January 6th. Because my husband is from the US, we do both Santa and the Three Wise Men. “Do” as in we label some presents with “from Santa” or “from the Three Kings.”
I never believed in the Three Kings, or stopped believing very early, since I don’t remember ever believing. What I was told was that my siblings (I have seven, all older than me) were not able to keep the secret. I never felt cheated out of a fantasy and don’t yearn for that magic. It was always a surprise, anyway, from whether “they” would “come” and leave presents for us and chocolates in our shoes, to what those presents would be. My husband did believe in Santa but doesn’t remember when or how he found out it was his parents.
We didn’t teach our kids to believe in either Santa or the Three Wise Men. We were always very open about it and they saw us label the presents many times. We’ve told them the story of St. Nicholas and how he gave stuff to children and how the tradition of Santa is a remembrance of his generosity. And we explained that this is a Christian tradition and that kids in Mexico receive presents from the Three Kings because they took presents to baby Jesus, etc.
Now… that doesn’t mean they actually understood… a couple of years ago we were walking in the mall and the topic of Santa came up and I asked my daughter: “Do you believe Santa is real?” “Yes, of course” “Hmmm! and how do you know that?” “Well, he brings me presents!” “NOOOOOOOO we’ve told you it is us!!” A new series of explanations ensued.
I’ve been told that am I/we are overthinking it; that it would be so much easier to “allow them to feel that magic.” Hmmm. There are a few things. One is that we have made a point of not lying to our kids. Not bad lies, not white lies. Not “I will be back in a little bit” when you’ll be away a couple of days. And no Santa and no Three Wise Men/Three Kings.
As an aside… one type of lie that I did tell my son several times was empty threats (“If you don’t take this toy away from the table now, I’m going to throw it in the trash.”) During the period when I was trying to force him to clean his room (I wrote about this in a previous post), one day we spoke about the whole situation. He, very distressed, told me that another thing that was extremely upsetting to him was to think that I could come at any point and take his toys away, or throw away his clothes. I felt awful. I realized I was saying all these empty threats and I was not putting that much thought into them, didn’t even realize I was doing it. But my son, on the other side, was feeling their full impact. I stopped. I was actually thinking about that this week, and asked him if he remembered those threats, and if I had done anything like that since we spoke about it. He said no, I don’t do it anymore. And, by the by, the Santa belief includes empty threats galore “he knows if you’re a good or a naughty kid, and if you’re not good you’ll be given a lump of coal!”
Teaching your kids to believe in Santa or the Three Wise men (or the Tooth Fairy or whoever else) is not a passive lie. It is an active lie. It involves planning, and actions to cover, and even embellish and enhance the lies. The lying is there when you encourage them to write a letter, and suggest what to write on the letter, and when you tell them that Santa will know if they’ve been nice. When you keep a long-running lie, you always need to be aware, so you don’t end up telling something in front of your kids by mistake. Since I just cannot lie in a very effective way or for very long, having my kids believing in Santa or the Three Wise Men would not be easy. It would be stressful for me, and at some point, I know I would mess up and tell them something that leads them to find out they don’t exist. I know some people are thinking that I’m exaggerating, but I’m truly not. It would be exhausting, too.
We also have an issue with the idea that Santa brings you presents if you’re “good.” So, what about kids whose parents cannot buy them presents? What about other kids who have tons of money? Does that mean you’re a better kid than some but not as good as the others? And why does the awful kid who calls everyone names and steals stuff at school get so many presents? And does Santa hate kids who are not Christian or Catholic? Why are the Jewish kids not getting anything for Christmas? And an added complication with following traditions from two countries/religions: Why is it that the Three Kings don’t give presents to our neighbors? And why is Santa not bringing anything to their cousins in Mexico?
An additional factor is that, since my daughter is autistic, and tends to think literally—as does my ADHD son, to a degree—I thought it was too complicated to explain as a fact (this would really lead to a very elaborate lie!). Also, my husband is atheist (I’m Catholic) and we’re raising our kids with no religion (but yes following Christian/Catholic traditions), so the explanations can be quite lengthily if you have to go from Santa to the creation of the universe (“Some people believe that God…”). And both children do ask all sorts of questions and ponder on the answer and one question leads to three more, and those to ten, and so on.
(My son is reading this and told me there were other questions he had when he was little, though he didn’t believe in Santa: Considering, he says, that there are around a billion people who celebrate Christmas around the world, how would he be able to go to every house in just ~25 h? And how would he be able to eat all those cookies? And fit into all those chimneys? Is Santa a stalker?).
I found a discussion at Autistic Not Weird that includes the idea of finding it unsettling that a stranger will enter your house at some point on Christmas Eve. A mom, Gwynne Miriam, wrote about her reasons to tell her autistic daughter that Santa is not real in The Mighty. I know that many people share our points of view (tons of others don’t, I’m fully aware). Then… there is the idea of not telling other kids, right? A couple of days ago I read a discussion started by Rabbi Ruti Regan on how Jewish kids are forced to support the Santa lie. That is a whole other level, if you ask me. Not only are you concealing but you are enforcing a belief where YOU don’t even get anything. Were you naughty? Are you punished for not believing?
Anyhow… Let’s leave it at we have our reasons to not having told our kids Santa or the Three Kings were real, but they won’t tell yours that the presents are really from their parents. Deal?