I knew when she started public school that December would be rough. Even in a school that tries extra hard to “celebrate winter holidays” and “embrace the diversity of our community,” Santa Claus is a tough guy to put in a corner. He’s everywhere – all over newspaper ads, the subject of the catchiest tunes on the radio, he’s standing outside the supermarket ringing a bell, posing for photos at the mall, decorating lawns and chimneys all over the neighborhood, and worked into the storyline of every television show Amelia watches. The big red-suited guy is here to stay.
Of course this was all true last year too. We drove by the same decorations on the way to preschool, and laughed when Amelia called Santa “that Christmas guy.” Because at her Jewish preschool, we knew that she was not making Santa hats or singing about good boys and girls getting toys. We knew that she would not feel left out, because at preschool she was not different. But this year there are only a smattering of Jewish students at Amelia’s school, and the season is chock full of Santa-appeal. And confusion.
|Sharing our favorite lights with a buddy|
So what to do? You can’t ignore Christmas, or deny all the fun and beauty that comes with it. We love holiday lights, so we drive around each year and check out our favorites, making special trips to a few over-the-top, set-to-music extravaganzas. Amelia’s friends are all anxiously awaiting Santa and the treasures he’ll bring. They talk about Santa on the bus, and compare notes on the whereabouts of their elves on shelves. We have no elf or tree, and we’ll probably eat Chinese food and go to the movies on Christmas. I’ve tried to convey that Christmas isn’t one of our holidays but it is beautiful and special for our friends who celebrate. And I thought we could leave it at that, at least for this year.
But then there's Santa. We were watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on television last week – maybe we shouldn’t have watched but it’s fun and I loved it as a kid and turned out relatively fine and still Jewish. Instead of watching the television I watched Amelia. Watched her little brow furrow as the reindeer and the elves talked about the big guy bringing toys to all the good little girls and boys. Listened as Amelia explained to me how she thinks the reindeer fly even without wings, due to the magic powers of the fairy dust that Santa sprinkles on them. All of a sudden, it hit me: she believes. Just like she believes in the tooth fairy and the Disney princesses, she believes in Santa. And she’s good yet she knows he’s not coming.
No wonder her brow was furrowed. The injustice!
So I told her. I wanted her to know she isn’t being left out. I said, “Amelia, you know Santa isn’t real, right?” Oh, crap. I knew even as I said it that this was just too big a secret for a kindergartener to keep. So I tried to cover, with explanations of how Santa is such a nice idea and a good character, like in a story, that kids who celebrate Christmas believe in. The more I yammered the deeper I dug my own hole. Finally she said, “So Santa is just the daddies in a costume?” Right, I said, and the most important message – don’t ruin it for the kids who celebrate Christmas. Let them believe in Santa.
Except of course she couldn’t do that. The next day, when the whole naughty and nice and lists of toys conversation came up over snack, she spilled the beans. And it seems Santa has ardent defenders in kindergarten, because the other kids were quick to call my girl a liar. And I’m sure there were more colorful names for me from their parents once Amelia’s classmates were tucked into bed and the dancing sugarplums started. I’m still surprised I haven’t gotten any phone calls.
So to all the believers: I’m sorry. I do love the Santa idea. It’s just a little bit all-consuming and I haven’t figured out how to let Amelia enjoy it but keep it in perspective and avoid disappointment and confusion. So I told the truth and made her a liar.
I’m sorry. Is it New Year’s yet?