Let’s admit it, who secretly believed in Santa when they were little? (Me!) And who hung up stockings on Christmas Eve in the hope of finding them heavy with goodies in the morning? (I hung up socks. True story). And who was a chubby little brown kid whose family made clear there was no such thing as Christmas or Santa or Stockings full of gifts and still did it all anyway? Yup! You guessed it. Me.
Of course the next morning there was nothing but those empty limp socks to be seen (one of them had even sadly fallen on the floor). And that, as they say, was the end of that. Yet look at how powerful the concept of Santa is that it captured my imagination to such an extent that even though I knew it couldn’t possibly be logically true, a tiny part of me still wished and hoped it was.
Santa Claus, his merchandising and cultural references are all-encompassing. It’s difficult to know exactly how to explain it all to our children. Will they feel like they are “missing out” on yet another “fun” thing that others do and “we” don’t? Will they be strong enough not to care? Should we ignore it? Give a dose of tough love?
This is actually not just a ‘Muslim’ parent problem. Many parents of all faiths and practices are loath to feed into a myth which features a fantastical man coming into your home in the dead of night and leaving gifts for children based upon their “goodness”.
In my Montessori parent’s group, there is often much discussion around this very topic. Central to Montessori pedagogy is the belief that children should be able to learn the true nature of things. And even though some Montessori parents have fond memories of Santa Claus, they also speak of how betrayed they felt by the adults in their lives when they discovered he wasn’t “real”. The Lancet Journal of Psychiatry recently published an article suggesting that this ‘lie’ parents tell might be complicit in undermining the trust their children have in them.
So why not try to approach the story of Santa by telling your curious child the truth? Not just the ‘Santa doesn’t exist’ truth but the real truth. Here is what worked for me ~ and may be you could try it with your budding Santa ‘fan’ ….
I started by telling my then 5 yr old a story ~
A long time ago, in the past, there was a wise and pious man named Saint Nicholas who used to secretly leave gifts for poor people on their doorsteps. When they woke in the morning they would find food to eat and warm clothes clothes to wear. He was a simple and humble man and he didn’t want anyone to know it was him as he didn’t want anything in return except good rewards from God.
Then over the years as time went by people wanted to remember him and his good example so they gave gifts to children and they would say the gifts were from St’ Nicholas …. Over time, practices change and after many years “St’ Nicholas” turned into ‘Santa Claus’ (try repeating the phrase over and over again!) and today people who celebrate Christmas like to be a ‘Santa Claus’ for their kids!
So Santa is not one real person. It’s people who pretend to be Santa and give gifts to their children, in the spirit of St’ Nicholas “
Along with this a discussion on how ‘nothing is free’ and that people work hard to be able to afford to give children gifts on special occasions like Christmas and Eid respectively.
This really worked for my son. He knows that I try to answer all questions he has truthfully and he expects that from us as his parents. Also it is a true and inspiring story and we even talked about the concept of charity and why it might be considered good to give it with ‘discretion’. This led us perfectly to a Hadith (saying of the of the Prophet Muhammad) in which one of the people closest to God is described as being ‘… a person who gives charity and conceals it (to such an extent) that the right hand does not know what the left has given’ .
Through this story he also understood why some kids like to believe in ‘Santa’ and why some adults might like to lead their children to believe in Santa. Of course I told him that it’s not up to us to tell other people what to believe and what not to believe but that in our family, we felt it important for him and his sister to know where their Eid gifts came from so we could thank the real and relevant people who cared enough to send them.
I am pretty sure this will make sense to most children and they will feel less ‘left out’ but one thing I can not guarantee is that your child will resist the urge to ‘reveal the truth’ to a Santa believing classmate. Even after warnings not to- my son just couldn’t help educating a younger friend, as I got to find out later from the child’s caregiver, that Ismail had told Eliot; ‘Santa is not real’(!)
Did you ever believe in Santa? Does your child believe in, or secretly want to believe in him? Do you care? We would love to know how our readers approach this topic!