The Santa Effect

I have posted this before, the first time more than five years ago. I wasn’t planning on revisiting it this year, but yesterday I was reminded that my son wrote a sequel. I thought it would be nice to share that, and will do so tomorrow, but it helps if you read the  original post first.

In shopping malls across North American the excitement has almost peaked: Santa Claus is coming!

Indeed, many communities celebrate with a Santa Claus parade, held now about three weeks earlier than when I was a child. With no young children in the household I think I will find something else to do that doesn’t involve standing in the cold for two hours.

It does however seem like a good time for a blast from the past. When my children were younger I wrote a weekly column, “Modern Parenting” for The Pembroke Observer newspaper. Being a stay-at-home dad was rare in our small town; people wanted to hear about my adventures.

Today we flash back to a column first published on December 22, 1991.

Santa Claus won’t be visiting our house this year. Or next year. Or any year after that.

No, my name isn’t Scrooge, nor am I that celebrated Grinch who stole Christmas. My son will get his share of toys and other Christmas gifts this year. He watched the Santa Claus parade with the rest of the city. He’ll even see Santa in whatever malls we visit before the holiday. But Santa doesn’t give gifts at our house.

As apartment dwellers we don’t have the traditional chimney St. Nick uses in his semi-authorized nighttime excursions. (I must admit though, it worries me: if Santa can get in so easily, what’s to stop the more unsavory elements of society from trying the same trick?)

The idea of a benevolent gift-giver is an appealing one. So is the image (carefully honed by Coca-Cola ads over the years) of the jolly old elf in the red suit. But is there a cost to our children?

My younger sister was a handful at times. When she was too young to know any better, this was the time of year when Santa could keep her in line, more or less. I’d pick up the telephone and pretend to dial the hotline to the North Pole. If she wouldn’t behave then Santa would just skip our house. That would produce the desired behaviour in short order. Was it cruel? Definitely? Deceitful? That too. Also cruel is the situation of the child who believes in Santa and has unfulfilled expectations come Christmas Day.

There’s an implied contract – if the child is good the benefits will be reaped on Christmas morning. There’s nothing that says rich kids will get better rewards than poor ones.

I believed in Santa Claus (as well as the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy). Maybe I was just a gullible child, but that’s not the way I remember it. My parents told me it was wrong to lie. They clearly delineated between true stories and fiction. Therefore, if they said there was a Santa Claus then there must be such a person, no matter how improbable or unlikely the story was.

As an adult I realized how upset I had been when I discovered I had been lied to. I don’t want to put my children through that. But I’m not going to deny our cultural heritage, which includes the fat man on the sleigh with the eight reindeer (nine if you count that recent red-nosed addition). It’s a nice story and adds a little extra to the season (not that anything extra is really needed).

I know that there was a person names St. Nicholas, on whom the Santa Claus myth is based. I have no problem telling my son that, though this year he is too young to understand. But he has to know the difference between truth and fiction, between fantasy and reality.

That way, when I tell him something important that sounds incredible, like what actually happened that first Christmas, he’ll know he can trust and believe me.

Memory is a funny thing. I wrote that 23 years ago, and I re-typed it from Vivian’s scrapbook for this column. I remember a different ending, with my mentioning not the first Christmas but what happened on Easter. I wonder if my memory is playing tricks, or whether it got changed for publication? I do have my original somewhere, on a floppy disc, but didn’t want to take the time to hunt it down.

I wrote “Modern Parenting” for a couple of years before falling victim to budget cuts. My children were teenagers before the subject came up in conversation. They were appalled that I had written about them without their permission. I’m sure I must have asked, but they were babies, they just didn’t understand what they were authorizing.

From time to time I may reproduce more of those old columns here in this space – watch for them.


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