Friday 14 December 2012

Father Christmas? No thank you!

 ~ by Emi

The Christmas tradition that I remember most vividly from my childhood was to do with Father Christmas. On Christmas Eve, we would put out a mince pie, a glass of milk (we don't want him drinking and sleighing now!), and a carrot for Rudolph. Oh, and a blue Smartie for the mouse. You didn't leave a blue Smartie for the mouse who shrinks, climbs through the keyhole, unlocks the door, and lets Father Christmas in? Well, how else does he get into houses that don't have chimneys, eh?

My little sister and I would wake up in the morning and discover that only crumbs remained of the mince pie, the carrot and Smartie had been nibbled and the milk had been drunk. Proof, in our eyes, that Father Christmas had truly been. That, and the massive pile of gifts under the tree.

This would happen every year, even long after my sister and I knew the truth about the man in red. It was one of those things that I planned to do with my children.

That is... until I actually had children.

I remember my first conversation with Stephen about the big man, and tentatively saying "I don't know if I want to tell Ru about Father Christmas.". To my surprise, Stephen agreed with me.

As parents, we try to lead by example to our children. We try and be calm in the face of crisis, whether that be a broken washing machine or a broken crayon. We try to be gentle with others, affectionate to those we love, giving Littles positive behaviour  to model their own on. We don't tell untruths either. Herein lies the issue.

Whilst I loved the magic of Santa sneaking into the house and delivering gifts when I was a child, the prospect of telling what is effectively an extended lie to my children for what could be upwards of five or six years seems very wrong. It just doesn't sit comfortably.

Don't lie, children, it's wrong. But a man in red delivers your gifts every Christmas.

How can I expect my children to be truthful when I am telling them a pretty massive lie? It really is a difficult one, as we want to encourage and embrace the special magic of this time of year, but do it in a way that doesn't involve telling a child about the absolute real existence of a fictional character. But also doing it in a way that doesn't then upset other children who do believe. And that's just the start of it. What then of the Easter Bunny? The Tooth Fairy? Any fairy? How far do you go with being truthful about what's real and what's not? It's a toughie, I can tell you.

Then we have the bribery side of it all.

"Be good or else no presents for you!"

I was regularly threatened in November and December with the prospect of no gifts. I was made to eat all my dinner with a swift comment of "Well, I'd better phone Father Christmas then and tell him not to bring you anything.". I was coerced into tidying my bedroom with a "He doesn't bring presents to children with messy rooms.".

Scary stuff.

It really is bribery. Do it or ELSE.

Don't get me wrong, I am so not above bribing my child on occasion. We've all done it. However, this whole thing of only good children getting presents seems like an awfully scary threat to a Little. Even his nursery teachers have used it to get him to 'sit tidily' and to clean up.

When you really think about it, it's not bribery... it's actually a threat. And the prospect of threatening my kids isn't a fun one, I can tell you.

I think, what makes me most uncomfortable though, is this withdrawal of gifts. We tell our children that we love them, and that gifts are given with love but woe betide you if you are naughty! No presents for you. And their little head links no presents with no love.

Stephen and I are finding it especially difficult this year as Ru is really at an age where he understands that Christmas and Yule are special. He's also 3, and very impressionable. We've already had him ask "Who is Father Christmas? So-and-so at school says that he gives presents. Will he bring me some? My teacher says I have to be good or I won't get anything."

Oh, my Small Boy.

In the end, my response to his question was very simply... no.

My Small Sweet Boy, some people like to believe that Father Christmas brings presents for them on Christmas. And that's ok. It's a lovely story and a lovely idea. Yule and Christmas are about being kind to those we love, and letting them know that we care about them very much. We give presents to remind them that they are very special to us. Your presents come from your Mama and Daddy and Pixie who love you SO much.

For me, the idea that we give gifts to those we love, but that those gifts, and thus our love, are conditional really makes my stomach churn.

My love for my child doesn't diminish when he refuses to tidy up. Nor does it diminish when he pushes his sister, or sits on the cat, or throws his trains at the window.

I want him to tidy up, because he knows that we take pride in our home and it makes us all happier when we have space and room to play and create. I want him to not push his sister because he knows that it makes her feel sad and could hurt her, the same for why he shouldn't sit on the cat. I want him not to throw his trains at the window because he knows that he could hurt someone or break something, and know that we treat our possessions with respect and kindness.

I don't want him to do these things out of fear that he won't get presents. That doesn't seem like an awfully good life lesson to learn at all. I don't want him to keep the idea in his head that gifts, and our love, are conditional, based only on his behaviour. All children need to know that they are loved unconditionally, no matter what they do.

I have absolutely no doubt that in many homes, Father Christmas is welcomed and celebrated as the Bringer of Presents, and that this person is both magical and benevolent, loved by all. But the argument that by not 'doing' Father Christmas, that I am taking away the magic of Christmas for my children, then I have to say that, with all due respect, I think that that argument is wrong.

The magic of this time of year, whether you celebrate Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or Yule, is in US. Yes, it is great to get presents, but the real special magic is in seeing the joy on someone else's face when they open their gift that we made specially for them.

It's in those bedtime hot chocolates with extra marshmallows.

It's in sitting in the dark with only the twinkling tree lights for company, sharing what our favourite part of the day was.

It's in making decorations together as a family.

It's in seeing birds in your garden enjoy the feeders you made them.

It's in being woken up to look out of the window at the spectacle of a world made unfamiliar by snow.

It's in sleepy snuggles under a cosy duvet, and secret present wrapping, and a new dress made by your Mama, and special books, and a trip out to see the lights, and making cinnamon cookies and gingerbread men, and the sequin you find in your hair from crafting earlier in the day, and celebrating one another.

It's in experiences.

It's in memories that he and his sister will remember and share with their own children one day.

It's not in a portly gentleman in crimson who breaks into your house, eats your food and leaves presents.

It's in LOVE.

That's real magic.

“We do not need magic to transform our world.
We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already.”
  ~ J. K. Rowling


  1. I actually enjoyed this post, but there are a couple of grammatical/syntax errors that are worth sorting.

    1. Me make mistakes? That unpossible! ;)

      Glad to hear you enjoyed one of my posts, I really am!

      If you'd be kind enough to let me know what the errors are, I'd be happy to correct them.

      E, x

    2. As if you're worrying about grammar on such a lovely post. Are you ever happy? You post constantly on Kendal's posts saying how wonderful she is, but this blog is a pair. Maybe you should be so positive about Emi's posts.

      Personally I thought this was great. I'm still going to do Santa with my kids, but I respect how other people want to do it. I think that there is a lot of magic in the Santa thing, and I plan to deal with the fact that he's not really real in a similar way to this blog post... Have you read it before?

      As long as they know that I did it with love I think it'll be ok. I haven't thought before about the fact that it is lying to them, and I will definately cut back on using him as a threat!

    3. No one was pretending that your comment hadn't been received. I corrected the errors you mentioned, therefore felt no need to keep the comment up there. I was not being childish and dishonest as you said on Kendal's post. I'd like to remind you that I am not a professional writer. I did not do a degree in English, nor am I a teacher of this subject.

      We try and use a saying in our home when deciding whether or not we should say something.

      Is it TRUE?
      Is it KIND?
      Is it NECESSARY?

      If you cannot answer 'yes' to all three, don't say it. I think it is a very valuable lesson to learn.


      And yes, to the last poster, I have read that blog post before and thought that if I did 'do' Santa, that this seemed a lovely way to deal with your children realising the truth about him, very gentle.

      I'm glad you thought it was a great post though!

      E, x

  2. I know what you mean, I really don't want to lie to Alex, on the other hand I truly believe in my Gods and Santa Claus equates well with Saturn and the traditions of Saturnalia. I have a year to work it out!

    1. So far, we've been looking at it as that it's a really nice story, same as what we're telling him about the Nativity. It really is tough though, to be truthful, but not so truthful that it could hurt other people's feelings. E, x

  3. I grew up without believing in Santa Claus, and in all honesty, it was no big deal. I didn't lose out on the "magic" of Christmas - we had plenty of wonderful traditions that I treasure to this day. My parents say they wanted us to know that THEY loved us, not a random fat stranger, and they also were keen to stress Jesus' birthday as the real meaning of Christmas (Christian family, obviously). My memories of it align very closely with how you describe talking to Ru about it. We don't plan on "doing" Santa Claus with Nom, and I genuinely don't think she'll notice anything missing.

    ... I do kind of wonder if I spoiled the Santa myth inadvertently for any of my classmates, though.

    1. I do worry about telling Ru outright that Santa is not real, as we're very aware that we don't want to spoil or take anything away from the children who *do* believe. It's a hard one, isn't it?

      I like your parents take on it. E, x

  4. Oh sandra aren't you a funny onion! Who reads such a wonderful blog and worries about technicalities? Really great to read Emi my sweet (a friend from GP ;) )

    1. I agree, If Sandra is so offended by grammatical/syntax errors I await her proof reading tutorial with great expectations.

    2. Glad you enjoyed it, and hopefully I'll see you on the forums! (Perhaps you'll tell me who you are?) E, x

  5. Something that Ron and I definitely differ on! I have never felt comfortable with it as a notion, but haven't ever really understood why. I think it is this though - that it's a big lie that eventually has to be brought down and be uncovered. Ron's daughter still believes in Father Christmas (she's 6) and I find it hard to play along knowing that it's her mum and dad who are going to provide all the things that she wants! I think it also encourages an idea that I'm not comfortable with - that mum and dad can't always buy you whatever you want from the shop, but Father Christmas will! I don't like that it sways what Christmas *is* to a time of year when you can ask for lots of things and Father Christmas will provide.

    I'm generally uncomfortable with Christmas (have been for a long time, really) because so few people seem to celebrate what it is anymore. Christmas has been warped from a traditional Christian (if inaccurate) celebration to a few months of obsessing over presents (giving/receiving/price/appropriate price/posting) and food. I know that anything is what you make it, but I'm not Christian and won't be celebrating it as that either, but I am uneasy with Christmas now being synonymous with "excessive presents and food" which is what it seems to be about for so many kids. It feels unhealthy!

    I guess I have to hope that my feelings on Father Christmas will change by the time we spawn or that we can reach some form of compromise!

    1. I suppose there's also the issue to consider about why Santa brings some children LOTS of expensive presents and why some children get very little or nothing. I have no idea how I would even BEGIN explaining that one! Has Niamh ever asked about that? E, x

  6. I had to have a really odd few days with the son of one of my Thai friends about this actually. They don't celebrate Christmas in Thailand, obviously, as it is a Buhddist country but they still show pictures and adverts with him in and Ing, the boy I was talking about, came and asked me who he was. He seemed tremendously confused about what Santa was and why he was white as well. I just told him that in other countries some people think that he brings presents for children very much like they believe that the gods and spirits that they believe in bring them luck and love :D

    It is an issue that I had never even thought would be of concern in a non christian country but it really is something that only Westerns think about and force upon their children. I love the idea of Santa and if I ever have children may well teach them that he is around as it was such a wonderful memory of mine when I grew up and personally I see nothing wrong with thinking that he is real, the same as I don't think that anyone beliving in gods or spirits is wrong. x