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Based on my five-year-old’s behavior in the last few days leading up to Christmas, I got the distinct impression he did not believe Santa was watching him through a crystal ball.
And after his ruthless cross-examination of me on how Santa manages to transcend the laws of physics, I got another distinct impression that he did not believe in Santa at all.
“Boy,” I said to him, “you just have to accept the fact that Santa is a magical creature. You’re gonna’ have to come to terms with that. Do you know any other 350-pound men who can squeeze down a chimney with a sack full of toys? Who else could manipulate the fabric of time in order to make millions of deliveries under cover of darkness in the span of a few hours?”
On Christmas Eve, as I listened to the last goodnight sigh escape the lips of my only child, I began to question the cultural practice and merits of deceiving our children, especially because I was having to invent elaborate new lies to answer questions like, “How will Santa get in with no chimney on our house?”
Yeah, I mean, it’s tradition. The idea of Santa is something we’ve handed down for generations. It’s accepted. It’s engrained within us. Popular culture has managed to convince some of us it would be immoral to teach our children otherwise. Yet, I couldn’t escape thinking about the instances, in my opinion, where tradition has really held society back. How many times have traditions kept us from being the best versions of ourselves? How many of us without chimneys have told their kids that Santa was sent a front door key in the mail?
I thought back to when I, at the ripe old age of 6, found out the truth about Santa. I was more disappointed in the fact that my parents felt the need to lie to me for the sake of that tradition. I wouldn’t have enjoyed a gift any less knowing that it was purchased by my parents. In fact, I thought, I probably would have taken better care of it.
It was at this moment, in the black of night and at a point of almost realizing something important, that I gave in to tradition and climbed up my rickety extension ladder to do a reindeer shuffle on the roof of our house. My footwork was convincing, according to later testimony from my wife. But there was something about the quality of my “Ho, Ho, Ho,” or the absence of sleigh bells ringing, that, according to my wife, sent my son into a fit of uproarious laughter realizing his father was on the roof pretending to be a herd of reindeer.
On my way off the roof, I almost floated down the ladder thinking about what a great dad I was. Later, after talking to my wife, I got the feeling that the two people closest to me, with equal gusto, shared in the hilarity that was at my expense.
“He’s too smart for you,” she teased.
And, like any good father, I was glad to hear that. But I wasn’t sure how to feel about the fact that he never confronted me with what he knew to be true. Was he practicing his own version of Christmas deception, I wondered? Was he starting his own tradition? Or, and this is what I prefer to believe, was he, in the spirit of giving, showing his dumb old man a little mercy?
On Christmas morning, as my son contemplated a mind boggling array of tiny Lego parts destined to one day find purchase in the soft fleshy parts of my feet, I sat, resentful at the thought that Santa, if still believed in, was getting all the credit.
Santa was not thinking about gift receipts. Santa did not brave throngs of angry department store shoppers. Santa was not stressing out about how to pay for it all.
Then, as my inner Scrooge subsided, I had another thought. It occurred to me that Santa, for those first few tender years in a child’s life, presents us, the gift givers, with the opportunity for anonymity. Santa is a way for us to experience giving in the truest sense of the word: giving with no thought of reward. And that’s what it’s all about.
Mark Scohier is a writer for the Chiefland Citizen who, to the chagrins of his employers, often mistakenly believes he has some meaningful insight into the fabric of society. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.