From an adult point of view, Christmas increasingly means an overly stretched budget, shopping in crowds (or in the buy-without-first-examining online market), wrapping, packaging, mailing, baking, and, hopefully, housecleaning. All this is done in tandem with a regular work schedule, sometimes while also preparing for travel. That makes for a hectic, pressured month of December. Sometimes a party or two is thrown in.
Children have a different perspective. For one thing, even while waiting impatiently for Christmas to arrive, children are not pressured to get tasks done quickly on a deadline. Parents do most of the work, not kids. A child’s Christmas vacation (winter break) is thus more eagerly anticipated, more savored, more relaxed, and hence more joyful.
Gifts are another aspect of Christmas. Whereas for adults, finding the “right” gift for each person for a bargain price and by a given deadline can be a mini-career in itself, children are less pressured to perform. Older children may be more concerned with giving, and spend considerable time on finding a gift for someone special. Generally, however, the attention of children focuses more strongly on what they are likely to get. There may be rattling of boxes, peeking in closets, and making of lists. Especially for younger children, there is also the tradition of Santa Claus.
Exactly who or what Santa is varies depending on where one lives, and has changed over time. He was originally known as Saint Nicholas, a Christian saint noted for his generosity. The face or concept of Santa current in the United States today has been shaped by a nineteenth century poem by Clement Clarke Moore, “The Night Before Christmas.” The poem describes Santa as a jolly elf who lives at the North Pole, has a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer, and who brings presents to sleeping children on Christmas Eve. In the nineteenth century, he also climbed down chimneys; the door is more common today. The current Santa is a magical creature.
Children have a mixed reaction to Santa. Many are afraid to sit on the lap of a mall “Santa”; some believe that Santa can actually bring them whatever they want, however improbable. Others are simply happy to play the game. The big question for children, asked usually between the ages from four to eight, is, “Is Santa real?”
That depends on how one defines reality. Of course, it is parents or other generous people who fill the stockings or bring the presents. That is enough for some to conclude that Santa is simply a myth, and either ignore the tradition or treat it as a pleasant game. However, what we imagine, what we institutionalize in myth or tradition, what we think and believe, though without physical form, also helps to shape our reality. Santa as the spirit of giving, as the jolly elf, as the bringer of good and possibly as the facilitator of the seemingly impossible, or simply as part of Christmas tradition, has an influence on the season and on our lives. The commercial market has captured the concepts of Santa and adapted them to mean a necessity to buy as many things as we can with which to give, decorate and otherwise celebrate Christmas. That the mall “Santas” and the bell-ringing “Santas” have become part of the modern tradition illustrates the adaptive nature of Santa and the effect that “soft”, non-physical concepts have on our reality.
To answer the question a child might ask, “Is Santa real?” is thus not an easy question to answer fully or exactly. The best answer might be, “Yes, Santa is real, but not in the way you think. Santa is the spirit of giving, and you can know him through the actions and thoughts of those around you.” That means that each child’s perception of Santa may be different.
As adults, we can embody the good things that Santa represents. There is no need to insist that Santa is physically real. Children may actually be happier to not have to sit on his lap. However, we adults need to realize that our children’s concepts of Santa, of Christmas, and of life depend upon our actions, words and thoughts. Our children’s picture of the world depends upon the security, kindness, generosity and forgiveness we extend to them, as well as upon our example, which is constantly in front of them.
As Christmas approaches now, even though we may feel harassed, exhausted, and inadequate to the season, let us keep our little ones in mind. Give them the gift of enjoying the season; talk with them kindly when tired, be patient when harassed. Take time out, even when exhausted, to do with our children the small special things which are perhaps not on our list of things to do before the deadline. If we do, we may find that we, too, can enjoy the season.