Sunday night marked the end of an era for the Collins family. As I was putting McMonkey, my youngest daughter, to bed, we were talking about her latest wriggly tooth. It caused her to mention the Tooth Fairy and the impending coin she'd find under her pillow when the tooth finally came out. Then I got the straight, level question.
"Parents are the ones who put out presents from Santa Claus, right?"
I had dodged this question for a while ("The presents must come from somewhere, right?"), but this was it. Point blank, nowhere to run, straight answer expected. So I gave it to her. I told her my version of the story (even though it's not the most accurate). I explained that many years ago, even before her grandparents have been alive, there was a guy named Nicholas who gave presents to children just because he knew they needed them. I said that he did it for a long time, for lots of children. I told her that the story of this really good person had spread to so many places and families that after a while, there was no one person that could do what Nicholas was supposed to do - give to all the people who wanted or needed gifts as Christmas time. For that reason, adults and people that *could* give gifts, gave gifts to each other from Saint Nicholas, or Santa. Eventually, Nicholas himself became too old to visit and leave presents for kids that he knew, and so the parents, brothers and sisters took up his tradition of giving gifts. When he died, his spirit of giving and the memory of his gifts had become the spirit of giving at Christmas time.
I then made her promise that now that she knew that Santa was no longer a live person and was just the spirit of giving, she had to help this spirit. That meant letting people believe in Santa until they could understand about helping Santa's work to be done. It also meant doing the work of being generous and giving to those who need it without expecting thanks. She put her hand on her heart, looked me steadily in the eye and promised she would. I gave her a big hug after that.
I struggle with deceiving children, even if it is about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. The way I direct myself out of this moral dilemma (keeping up the legend versus always giving your kids the straight poop) is by telling myself that you should only give kids as much information as they can handle. Giving anonymous gifts in the spirit of goodwill is a pretty abstract concept for most kids to grasp. The Santa Claus legend (this magic guy that no one sees that gives gifts for no reason) is a nice placeholder. Kinda like how most organized religions (in their purest forms) are a nice place holder for the true meaning of spirituality. They will do until we are mature enough to grasp what's *really* going on. Get me drunk sometime (or even just corner me when I'm comfortable) and I'd love to discuss this theory with you.
And don't get me started about how our society of consumerism has twisted the legend of Santa Claus into this high-pressure, greed-inducing spectre of the Christmas season. That's a whole different rant.