I want my kids to trust their gut, to speak up when something feels wrong, and to question the stories they’re told. I’ve heard of parents silencing an older child who was figuring it out by telling them if they don’t believe in Santa, they get no gifts. This invalidates a child’s trust in his own discernment or thrusts them into the world of keeping an open-secret. It values keeping up the charade over truth.
I’ve gone to great lengths to shape and educate my children that no other person has a right to their bodies. I don’t force them to hug or touch anyone, especially not strangers. But, I’ll admit, I have laughed at the photos of kids crying in Santa’s lap. The subtext is, “Silly babies, don’t they know that this strange man is safe and here to bring them good things?” We ignore their rightful distaste for being placed in the hands of a complete stranger. Has every man who plays Santa been background checked and his only intentions for wanting to handle children been proven pure? Even so, would Harvey Weinstein right now pass a background check in the system? What about everyone else who now stands accused – many of whom have been accused of crimes over decades? But even if your local Santa is a pure soul, it’s a betrayal of trust and body boundaries to force a child into a stranger’s lap for a photo op or to whisper wishes.
The current model of Santa bringing gifts is contrary to the very meaning of a gift. Merriam-Webster defines a gift as “something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.” Santa’s gifts are dependent on behavior. Why should a child be grateful for gifts from Santa? They are compensation, not gifts. Do they write thank you letters for his generosity or do they feel entitled and relieved that they have been deemed “good enough”? Honestly, the only reason my kids get gifts from Santa is because I’m concerned that from the messages in culture, they’ll feel a sense of shame if Santa brought them nothing.
Because of this, at my house, Santa brings one small under $5 gift per child. And here’s another reason why. One year, a friend shared that after spending a great deal of money on a very nice gift “from Santa” for her child, it was almost immediately broken. When the mother got upset, the child responded, “Why do you care? You didn’t pay for it.”
A definitive part of having gratitude is recognizing and valuing the kindness of the giver. Why should Santa get all the credit? What kindness or effort did he go to? Most kids have or develop a sense of the effort that parents go through to provide. Santa gets his toys from enslaved elves and magic. I think it is better to give kids gifts that reflect the effort and kindness of those who love them, to give them a taste of unearned grace and an opportunity for gratitude.