Santa, his reindeer…and a lion

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Can I admit to you all that I’ve got some ambivalence about the whole Santa thing? I grew up believing in Santa, so I have fond and happy memories of that tradition and don’t feel scarred in any way. But the way Santa is so wrapped up in want and consumerism and making Christmas all about Things, the way his story is centered not in Bethlehem, the locus of the Christmas story, but the North Pole, which has nothing to do with anything– it all seems to indicate to me that we’ve gotten a little off track about the whole Santa story.

So, I admit, I’ve kind of been deferring the decision of how Santa would figure in our family’s Christmas traditions. Last year, my kids basically had no idea it was Christmas, though they did enjoy opening presents, and the year before they were infant blobs. I haven’t had to really decide until now. Even this year felt kind of like another year in which I could wait to see how I felt about the whole thing. I figured we’d decorate the tree, make cookies, listen to Christmas music, go look at Christmas lights, play with our little Nativity, read Christmas stories, do our Advent calendar, and just generally live in a Santa-free bubble for one more year. And we’ve been doing all those things (minus the Advent calendar, which I still haven’t finished making).

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But it turns out, I can’t live in a Santa-free bubble anymore..

Claire learned about Santa at preschool, and he even visited her class. Apparently many of the other kids were afraid of him (after all, he’s “SO BIG” as Claire reported), but Claire reassured them that Santa is not scary, after all, her daddy has a beard too. And when he asked her what she wants for Christmas, she said, “A present for my mom.” She’s on the nice list for sure! After that, she started asking us all the time, “Can we go see Santa?”

So now I felt like we not only had to figure out where Santa would figure in our holiday traditions, but we had to make a pilgrimage to see the guy, as well. Here’s where I’m at: Santa is a lovely story of an early church father who believed in showing others the love of Jesus through giving. His love and his gifts are supposed to point us back to the ultimate Giver. So I think we will be celebrating Santa as a fun way to participate in the joy of giving and showing our love, but ultimately a type of pretend play. We will visit him, we will get stockings full of gifts “from” him, and we may well even leave out cookies. Whether or not he is “real” will be avoided until directly asked, but I’m not going to make some sort of elaborate effort to convince my kids that a mythical red-suited figure is real. And I certainly won’t use him as a good behavior tool– no “Santa’s watching” from us– because Santa’s love is like God’s: for all of the children in the world, regardless of the things they do.

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So, now that you know about all of my holiday angst, you may be asking, yeah, but what about the lions you mentioned in the headline, here?

Well, yesterday, we had planned to finally fulfill Claire’s dream to see Santa. We wanted to go see the Santa in the lobby of the lovely Capital Hotel, but he was only there until 3:00 and Etta’s nap went long. That left us with the mall (kill me now) or Bass Pro Shops. If you’ve been reading for any length of time, you may be unsurprised to learn I have never set foot in such a place. But they offered a free picture with their Santa, so we decided to check it out.

Because we’ve learned a few things about toddlers in our 2.5 years, all the way there, we tried to help the girls prepare for what we were about to do. “We’re going to go see Santa! There will probably be a lot of kids there to see him, so there will probably be a line. He’s going to be in a big chair, and we’ll go up and say hi, and you can sit on his lap if you want. He will probably ask you what you want for Christmas. What are you going to tell him that you want? Do you think you could tell him Merry Christmas? Someone will probably take our picture, so we will smile and say CHEESE!”

Guess what part of that Claire keyed into: “a line.” Only she heard “a lion.” “I wanna see the lion first, ok? Can we go see the lion?” There had been a miscommunication. This place being Bass Pro Shops, there were all manner of taxidermic things, including reindeer (sorry, Blitzen, guess you got blitzed…), turkeys, ducks, and even a bear, but no lion. As we stood in line, Claire asked, “but where’s the lion?” We tried to explain, “This is the LINE, baby. We said LINE, not LION.”

After about 20 minutes of standing in line, the whole time discussing exactly what was about to go down, we got to the front. I don’t know if it was the flipped out infant who went right ahead of us and was forced to sit on Santa’s lap despite her tears and wails, but Claire suddenly decided she wasn’t so into Santa, after all, and she certainly didn’t want to sit on his lap. Etta ran right up and hopped on his lap, and was ready to go, but Claire clung to her daddy with a deer-in-the-headlights look on her face. In retrospect, she looked an awful lot like the taxidermied reindeer off to our left. So, her daddy held her, we snapped a quick photo, and then we made a quick lap around the store.

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We saw a giant fish tank, and we petted the stuffed bear. I think they liked that just as much as Santa, really. It turns out, I didn’t really need to figure out my whole philosophy of Santa before we made our big visit. If I had known, though, I would have been clearer about the lions!

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4 thoughts on “Santa, his reindeer…and a lion

  1. Youve articulated a lot of my thoughts and concerns about Father Christmas too! I hate how easy it is to make Christmas about things. I think we also will try to explain about the origins of Father Christmas and that lots of people, multiple Santas echo his original generosity in the same way that St. Nick echoed God’s.

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  2. I teach preschool and the line/lion misunderstanding happens pretty regularly. Even with 4 year olds, I would often get “why are we standing on a lion? I don’t see the lion!” when I asked them to stand in line

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  3. We have the same Santa ambivalence and tried to live in a Santa-free bubble for a while. Actually, when my 5 year old was a baby, I was distinctly anti-santa, and I was dismayed by how my kid knew who he was by the time she was 2!! In addition to all the annoying consumerism and surveillance issues, I also resent the thought of giving him full credit for our gift giving! I put a ton of thought into what toys we bring into our home and even make a lot of things, and dammit! I want the glory for it! So I totally relate to not putting forth a ton of effort into constructing his presence. We have found a good compromise is to give Santa credit for 3 small gifts, and I refuse to wait in line to see him. If he appears at some place where we are, we participate in a visit and picture, but I make no mall trips and will not by any means pay money for a picture with him!! He was at my husband’s job Christmas party, so that took care of it this year. Last year, we ran into him at the pet store, so we just chatted him up right there.

    My daughter figured out the Easter bunny isn’t real this past Easter and point-blank asked us if daddy was the E.B. We told her “yes,” cleared up the confusion that he does not actually put on a bunny suit to hide the basket, and that everybody’s parents are the E.B. for their own homes. I was hoping she’d apply the same thinking to this whole Santa thing, but in kindergarten, that’s all they’ve been talking about so even though I’m pretty sure she knows it’s all a sham, she plays along with it and we just follow her lead up to a point. Some of her peers have families who go through great lengths to “create the magic” of reindeer food and flour footprints and glitter and elves on shelves and…just no thanks. There’s magic in just pretending…she loves pretending to be a queen or a unicorn or a doctor or that the living room rug is her own island, and knowing it’s just pretend does nothing to lessen that magic. I don’t need to go in and sprinkle sand on the floor and make up a weeks-long story about how she can turn the living room into her own beach for real. It’s enough for kids to just pretend, so I’m fine with letting her imagine a Santa visits our house. There is other magic to be had and it does not involve being continuously monitored by fictional strangers or continuous shopping trips.

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