Friday, December 14, 2001

Truth About Santa Claus

Now that we're halfway through the month of December, I'm probably not the only one concerned about Christmas plans. Everything is adorned in holiday splendor, and strains of Christmas carols and hymns are just about all we hear as we walk through the streets of the city. For the time being, "all of Japan" seems to be "Christian." There aren't too many Santas on the street corners yet, but department stores and shops are full of "Dancing Santas" and other types of Santa dolls on display. Looking at them, I wonder if children nowadays actually believe in Santa Claus. Even if they believe when they're little, I wonder when it is that they learn "the secret."

Today's International Herald Tribune ran an article* written by a reporter of the Washington Post who wondered how to answer her children, ages 6 and 8, when they asked, "Mommy, isn't Santa really you?" She wrote that they asked her this question when she was "fed up with telling them the truth." The reason for this is that she is undergoing treatment for cancer, and, when talking with her children, has been trying to be particularly careful to balance the truth that she might die and her concern that she not overburden them with unneeded fear about their future. Her choice, therefore, was to tell them that they "can have it both ways"--that is, know what they know, "but also pretend he's real." She wrote that they themselves can then decide which parts they can take on best.

I can't imagine that telling a young child about a parent's "fatal disease" (although cancer is not always fatal) is the same as telling him/her about the existence or non of Santa Claus. In my family, however, none of our three children asked this type of direct question, so there was no need for us to explain anything. Every December when they were little, I would bring home a catalogue from the neighborhood toy store and say, "Why don't you cut out the picture of what you want, paste it on a postcard and send it to Santa Claus?" They loved doing this, and, when they were done, I'd take the postcards and say, "I'll take it to the post office for you." I would, of course, head off, not to the post office, but to the toy store, bring them back home and hide them, either in the closet or the trunk of our car. On Christmas Eve, we'd give them a huge, special deluxe Christmas stocking and have them put it by their pillows. And "Santa Dad" would come in and carefully slide the presents into their stockings when they were fast asleep. We used to do this every year until our older son, who is now 20 years old, entered junior high school.

I don't know just exactly when or from whom our children found out the "truth about Santa Claus", but our older son probably played along with us a number of years, enjoying this "play" that his parents were creating. It's not that Santa Claus "doesn't exist", but, rather, that the parents are playing the part of "Santa Claus." Therefore, it's okay to continue and be the "delighted child"--that may be how he felt.

Our daughter, a high school junior, who is the only one of our three children still at home, finished her finals a few days ago, so we went out to dinner to celebrate. My wife bought two small stuffed animals, a cat and a dog, that they were selling at the restaurant. Since this was so unusual, I asked her what had prompted her to do so, and she replied, "It's going to help the people in poor countries of the world." I looked at the label on the stuffed animals, and it said that the company was, "through the continuous import" of these handicrafts made in economically disadvantaged countries in and around Nepal, "aiming at the expansion of local employment." Santa Claus resides in the hearts of all of us.

- MT

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