"Mom, I must have been really bad this year," my nine year old said.
"Why is that?" I asked.
"Because Santa brought my friend a bike and all I got was little stuff. Santa must not like me much," she said.
The terrible, horrible, no good Santa Situation aka the Big Dilemma aka the rough moment and what is a mom to do?
Let me back up a bit.
My husband and I decided a while ago to be very conscientious about how we handled the Santa situation and Christmas gift giving. We planned with an eye to the long-term.
Here are key factors we considered:
- Both kids have birthdays in December, making it a massive gifting and receiving month, with the rest of the year pretty bone dry.
- Santa is a very special part of the holiday, but we didn't want the holiday to revolve around Santa or what Santa brings.
- Santa is a great morality tale/myth potential that's gotten way too diluted. The original concept of Saint Nicholas giving to needy and building out a concrete embodiment to help children grasp a truly complex, gnostic and esoteric philosophy makes sense. Until it becomes more of a commercial for consumerism. Which it has.
- We both personally believe in Christmas as being a time to reflect on deeper meanings and reasons, a time for ceremony to provide a framework for faith.
- So while we want to incorporate the magic of Christmas, Santa, the wonderful myths, the beautiful poetry and songs, touching movies and books and all that so our children have fun and fond memories, we want to do so in a thoughtful and balanced way.
We began with initial requests to limit gift-giving. That failed. And I understand -- family loves to gift little kids with cute stuff. It's just that stuff piles up.
Eventually my husband and I decided a lot of things that could be boiled down to a single concept: spread it out and plan ahead.
Kids are going to want and need new things with each season. So why not anticipate that and allow for that possibility?
We know we can't control how others give gifts, so we made choices that we'd put a cap on spending and quantity. We (mom and dad) would give gifts and Santa would fill stockings.
You'd be amazed how this can simplify things. No need for wrapping paper stress, remembering whether you or Santa was the giver, and so forth. We give one "big" toy (something fun but over budget of what we'd normally spend) and a combination of special, want and need. It worked out this year to about six packages per child to open. Each girl got a special necklace, a keepsake tree ornament, some clothing, the big fun toy (scooters), and a fun educational toy (from Discovery). For my own sanity, I also got them long range walkie talkies. This is so I can have one at home base, they can take one out in the neighborhood, and I can check in. This is the compromise my husband and I reached since we still aren't too keen on cell phones for the kids. Yet.
Santa did a pretty good job, too. Each child got a personalized mailbox filled with candy and a stuffed Santa toy, a personalized water bottle, a name sign, Zhu Zhu pets babies, colored chalk for the new chalkboard, hair accessories, and so forth. Most importantly, he left a personal letter for each child, talking about things he liked and found special about her.
When the wrapping paper cleared, the kids were pretty happy! Within an hour, the walkie talkies were in use as the kids scooted around the neighborhood, and we all dealt with the sound of grinding rocks in the nine year old's new rock tumbler.
Earlier the kids had gotten wonderful gifts from their extended family that hit their main interests. All in all, a nice haul.
I was feeling pretty happy, as well, that we managed to spread out family visits across a week so we got nice quality time in a low-stress way. We incorporated enough thoughtfulness, such as giving to a need (donations) and actively participating in church activities, as well as talking about meaning.
All was well until December 27. When kids started comparing notes.
In our family, we talk about "need-based" giving, and my kids have, until now, accepted that Santa knows which families need more. Our kids are fortunate and get lots from family, so they only "need" stockings filled. Other families need more from Santa. It's also helped explain differences among religious and nonreligious beliefs. Why would Santa visit my kids at their house with gifts but skip their Jewish cousins? Santa respects differences, I said, and he knows that families believe and give differently. It opens up a cool learning opportunity, too, about different beliefs (and nonbeliefs) and true meaning versus overfocus on gifts.
I was stymied to explain, then, how a friend of similar means and beliefs ended up with a big, shiny, new bike.
So I fell back on myth. Santa is a mystery. Something that baffles understanding and cannot be explained. An enigma.
Which might be the truest statement ever made about Santa.
But I did reassure my daughter that it had nothing to do with her naughty or nice status, or being liked less than a friend.
And then I cursed the "bogeyman" Santa side of the myth and my susceptibility to it this year, for the first time, out of impatience with constantly bickering children who have been in rampant boundary (and patience) testing mode lately.
But maybe it's not that bad for her to ponder her behavior, just a bit, in this context...