Santa Claus & the Games People Play

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“I told my kids that Santa was the Spirit of Giving.” That’s what I heard a bank teller say to a customer while I was waiting in line the other day. Americans love their Santa Claus. But her words warmed my heart and impressed me with her wisdom. I used to say the same thing to my children, but not from the very start.

Like any other young child, I adored the Santa Claus tradition.  My sister and I, only a year in age apart, had all manner of little Christmas rituals that we repeated every year. Our bedrooms were right next to each other’s.  In the weeks leading up to Christmas–oh maybe five minutes after we went to bed, but it seemed daring to us–we would meet secretly in the bathroom with flashlights.  There we would just talk about Christmas–what we wanted from Santa–and when we got older, what we would buy our family members and friends.   We had a “secret code” of knocking that we used to signal the time of the meeting.  Two knocks on the wall meant, “Come here.”

Because it was so much fun, we also played a game called “Bad little children looking for Santa Claus. I can’t remember when we started this game but we played it even years after we knew that Santa was our parents.  (YES indeed!  Didn’t you know???  Oh! I’m SO SORRY!)

On Christmas eve,  in the family room where the Christmas tree was glittering and twinkling and the rest of the lights were out, we’d pretend that we were “bad little children” who crept out of bed on Christmas eve and waited for Santa Claus.  We had a little jingle–music with the words “bad little children looking for Santa Claus” dee,dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee–and we’d skurry about on tip toe in beat to our little tune. We’d look behind chairs and under tables.  Then, someone would let out a huge, “Ho, Ho, Ho” and we’d scream our girly screams and skurry to some hiding place.  Then, we pretended that we saw Santa crawl out of the fireplace and walk to the tree, unload a ton of presents, and go back up the chimney.  All in our vivid imaginations.

My grandparents were the sweetest people in the world.  On the day before Christmas, they brought Christmas presents from their home for our family in laundry baskets and big boxes.  There were five people in the family so there were lots of gifts…plus my grandparents really got into the Christmas Spirit. When we played our game, there were always lots of gifts already under the tree.  So after our imaginary Santa had departed, when we came out of our hiding places, we stood OOOing and AAHHing at the pile of gifts that was NOT a part of our fantasy, but really there.  Then we would examine the name tags on the presents….looking, of course, for our own names. We’d go through this game several times, until we were sure we’d looked over the presents mighty thoroughly.

I don’t feel particularly that I was harmed by “believing” in a Santa Claus.  As a mother, when my children were young, I enjoyed creating the same kind of Christmases that I had when I was a child. One of my sons, Isaiah, remembers asking me, when he was about six years old, if there was a Santa.  I told him that there was not but I also told him that Santa represented the Spirit of Giving. Both my sons say that they  felt as if their father and I were very easy going about the whole affair, not making a big deal out of Santa.

But Isaiah now says that when he has children, he will not perpetuate the deception. He will create the magic of Christmas with the children finding the presents under the tree on Christmas morning….but there will be no deceit in the formula. Why, he wonders, would we lie about something for no good reason? (Or for any reason, for that matter.)

Now, I am going to agree with him on this.  This deception is unnecessary. Indeed, if children know that their parents are Santa Claus from the very beginning, and it is a kind of huge GAME that they are playing, it will not ever risk the trust that is so vital between parents and child.  But if a Great Deception is condoned during one of Christianity’s most sacred moments, what lesson can our children take from this?

Christmas is, after all, a spiritual holiday. To have it paired with deception somehow seems terribly hypocritical, no matter how well meaning.  Indeed, that so many people are so casual about this deception, seems rather weird…particularly because we are dealing with a deeply significant spiritual event.

I appreciate all the wonder, beauty and joy that my parents and grandparents created for me when I was a child at Christmas time.  But now, I say, let’s revise our stories.  Let’s tell them outright:  On Christmas night, Mommy and Daddy wait until you go to bed and are sound asleep.  Then we  pretend we are St. Nicholas, the Spirit of Giving, and we put a pile of gifts under the Christmas tree for you!!!  So you better go to bed, right now!

Simple enough!

I honor and respect tremendously the words of my teacher, Grandmother Pa’Ris’Ha.  She has also come out in favor of an honest presentation of the Santa Claus game.

Lots of people could say:  “Hey what’s the big deal?  Santa is fun.  It is just a game.  It doesn’t hurt the kids.”  But why take the chance?   If its “just a game” we need to play fair and straight. Tell the truth from the beginning and play with honor. It would be putting the Holy Spirit, Yey, even the Spirit of Truth, back into Christmas.

With visions that the Truth will set us Free,

Elizabeth Richie/Du’Tsu

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