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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Laid-Off Dad makes a good point: even though Christmas is about being together with the people we love--and not Santa--when Toddler in Chief gets to school, his Santa-believing friends will have an influence on his beliefs. Not only that, by avoiding Santa and the commercial aspect of the holidays, I don't want to deprive TIC of the sense of wonder that surrounds Christmas and this most wonderful time of the year.

Being in frosty Buffalo surrounded by family and snow-covered everything defines the holidays for me. We've been singing songs as Grammy plays the piano, wrapping gifts, rearranging the tree ornaments, preparing for a marvelous feast, and making crafty things. This is the good stuff I want TIC to associate with Christmas. I know I won't get the final say on what he believes--and regardless of what he thinks about Santa--I hope these events will linger in his mind, as they will in mine.

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OK, the alcoholic crack went a little overboard. I'm sure that right now America's shopping malls are filled with avuncular, portly, nonpedophilic gentlemen who are generating vital revenue streams and getting paid peanuts for it. But when you look at the idea of selling your kid on Santa Claus, there are just too many red flags:

  • It's a bad message. Don't be good for the sake of making the world a better place. Be good because the amount of crap you get at year's end depends on it.
  • It's an empty threat. Is there a parent out there who actually would put a lump of coal in his kid's stocking? Is that person's last name Stalin?
  • It's invasive. How are your kids supposed to sleep soundly when old men, or large rabbits, or tooth fairies are always committing B&Es?
  • It's a lie. What happens when your kid finds out it's all a big joke? Ha-ha! Remember how petrified you were all year because you thought Santa might stiff you? Sucker!
  • It's potentially disturbing. Worse still, what if your kid doesn't figure it out? If I told my son that an old man with a herd of flying caribou slides down every Christian chimney in the world in one night, and he didn't call me on it, I'd start to worry about him.

My children are city kids, so I have to know that they're savvy enough to survive here. And they have to know that our deadbolts will keep out the riff-raff.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Even though the calendar tells us this is the week to write about Santa, it's a terrible time for me. I am so deep into Year-End Fatigue—from the stores that blast Christmas carols before Halloween, to the tramplings on Black Friday ("On your mark. Get set. Kill each other!"), to the nonstop urgings to BUY BUY BUY, to the myriad social obligations, to the sociopaths down the street—that I've begun romanticizing the Amish.

The challenge is not to let my jaundice color my sons' sense of wonder about the whole holiday season, because kids deserve a chance to love Christmas as much I did when I was young. We've been all around the city, looking at the lights and decorations and the awesome train diorama at the Citigroup Center, and we've played up how we all get to fly on a plane and go see Grandma and Grandpa. We also light Advent candles every morning and dance around to Christmas carols every night.

But as far as we're concerned, Santa is a pointless myth. So even though Son1 knows about him through his friends at school, we're not emphasizing him all that much. We'll exchange gifts because we're family and because we love each other. Who would want anything from an underemployed alcoholic in a cheap red suit?

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Kids are inundated with marketing and advertising. And pushing Santa onto kids really just reinforces a gimme-gimme lifestyle. Because really, Santa equals commercialism. Tell the old guy in the red suit what you want and you'll get it, as long as you've been good and nice. That is most definitely not the spirit of the holidays. In our family, Christmas is about being thankful that we have each other and that we are together.

And so how did the spirit love and family and thankfulness get all mixed up with the spirit of spending? Or the spirit of getting? Or become the story of a man who travels the world in one night on a sleigh? Sure it's fun to pretend, but why is it wrong for kids to know that their parents give them presents? It feels good to give and that's why we do it. That seems like a fabulous lesson to teach kids.

We don't ignore Santa because there are many wonderful, entertaining stories, like The Polar Express. And, there's a great lesson to be learned from the Grinch: "It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!...Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more."

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