The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 21, 2007


Santa under scrutiny

Warning: Due to holiday-related subject matter, this column may be inappropriate for young children.

Holly was sure she had it all figured out.

"Reindeer can't fly," she announced a few weeks ago. "So Santa isn't real."

"Santa isn't real?" I echoed, stalling for time. My son hadn't voiced this concept until he was eight years old; Holly is only five, and a rather young five at that, so I hadn't expected to be hit with it quite so soon.

"No, Santa isn't real," she declared with certainty, "just like mean people and monsters aren't real."

Wow. It was one of those where-to-begin moments. How unfortunate that she thinks Santa isn't real; but great that she thinks monsters aren't real; and peculiar that she thinks mean people aren't real. Maybe it's worth sacrificing the Santa myth if it means retaining the latter two impressions.

"There's not really a Santa, but there are lots of adults who dress up like Santa and come to kids' houses in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve," Holly reasoned. It didn't seem quite fair to me that I was going to miss out on the fun of having a Santa-believer and at the same time be denied credit for gift-giving, but I figured if she wanted to see the world as full of furtive but benevolent adults sneaking presents into our home in the middle of the night, we'd let that go uncontested for the time being.

So many of the myths around Santa seem complicated when the cold hard reasoning of a five-year-old is applied. For years, we've hurried the kids off to bed on Christmas Eve, telling them it's crucial that no one see Santa. At some point one of them asked me why it's just fine for us to see him at the mall, at the town tree-lighting, at the church fair and the preschool potluck, but not on Christmas Eve. (At the church fair one year, we overheard Santa in a somewhat out-of-character discussion with the chair of the Finance Committee about the cost of necessary repairs to the church roof, which actually made perfect sense to my children. Who would have more of a vested interest in the sturdiness of the roof than Santa?),

That was when I started to realize that Santa might have become a little overexposed. "It's just that he's in a hurry on Christmas Eve," I explained. "He doesn't want to see anyone because he doesn't have time to stop and chat." That explanation resonated quite well with my children, who are forever imploring me not to interrupt so many of our own public excursions with my propensity to stop and chat.

And then there's the obstacle we run into at church every year when adults try to explain why we all get together to fill stockings for underprivileged children in a nearby city. "Think of all the presents you get on Christmas. And imagine: If it wasn't for us, these other children might not receive anything at all!" one well-meaning adult exclaimed merrily last year to a Sunday school class. This left the kids at our church with the befuddling message that Santa takes good care of wealthy children while completely ignoring the less fortunate.

But what surprised me more than Holly's Santa insight this year was that she seemed to have forgotten it just days later. "Mom, there's something I've been thinking about," she said with a very worried look. "What happens if I need you in the middle of the night,and it's while Santa is here? What if I need to go to the bathroom and I call out for you and Santa hears? Won't he leave if he thinks someone is awake?"

I was tempted to use her anxiety to my own advantage by suggesting that at the age of five, maybe she could learn to use the bathroom during the night without waking me up first. "Santa will be downstairs and we'll be upstairs," I said. "He won't care if we're up, as long as we don't try to catch a peek at him."

"But what do kids do if they need their moms and their bedrooms are on different floors?" Holly continued. This was the same kid who had announced days earlier that Santa wasn't real. But I guess worries about pee accidents trump holiday myth revelations. "Just come get me like you always do," I sighed.

I'm sure that with time, reality will encroach, so for now we'll enjoy a final season of quasi-belief for our household. And if Holly's uncertainty about Santa's presence means that she'll use the bathroom without waking me on Christmas Eve, we'll just call it our Christmas bonus.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito