Sitting around with several old and dear friends this weekend, the question of how to talk to young children about Santa came up. Santa--ubiquitious, inescapable, lovable, fictional. Some said their parents made a big deal of it, even punishing older children for "outing" the secret to younger siblings. Some said their parents didn't encourage a belief in Santa, but acknowledged that he was a useful tool (an implement, an implement!) for spreading all the sentiments of the holiday. Others still expressed belief that since Santa is, at heart, fictional then to perpetuate (you have no idea how long that took to type!) the story is a lie, plain and simple. My parents used Santa as a way to talk about sex.
Okay, my mom did. I will never need to know how Dad brought it up with Tom. At the tender age of 8, ah...I remember the event as if it were yesterday. My 10yo sister and I were taken to her room, which had two windows. One looking on to the front yard, the other looking onto the driveway. Beige curtains with blue and orange flowers matched the bedspread we were sitting on (being 1987 and all). On that sunny, cold day with the smell of ironing in the air, my mother asks, "Do either of you know what sex is?" After a suppressed giggle, Nicole says, "It's when men and women get in bed and kiss a lot." I come back with, "Nuh-uh. It's when men and women get in bed and take their clothes off and kiss a lot." And from there, the conversation becomes a collection of strobe-like images and words. Pictures of conception from the 1960s-era book her mother doubtless used to teach her about babies and growing changes. Mostly I remember the laughter of my sister and I as we were being fed the single-most ridiculous set facts of our young lives. More than once, Mom said if we couldn't get it together, we were going to go back downstairs.
But it's the end of the conversation I've never been able to get away from. Mom assured Nicole and I she was always available and open for conversations about sex, changes, confusion, even showing us where she kept these books so we could go back to them if we didn't want to talk. (Yeah, right. I wasn't going back to that!) Then she turns to me and says, "And by the way, Erin? Santa isn't real. Neither is the Tooth Fairy,the Easter Bunny, or the Great Pumpkin. Your Dad and I do it. Don't tell Rachel."
Puh-lease. You've sat here and fed me this clearly-unbelievable story about...sehhhxxx...and now you expect me to believe you about Santa? I love Santa--the idea of Santa. How there is someone in the world so devoted to the joy and reward of others that he makes impossible stretches of time, culture, religion, socioeconomics to bring that joy to all. Because of "Santa" we stand outside grocery stores and ring bells, or work in soup kitchens, or be nice to our neighbors, or create an atmosphere of peace and joy and beauty. Sex was weird. Sure it's the way the universe propagates itself, and it unites people in marriage as the "one flesh" the Bible speaks of. But it generates a lot of hurt in the world--infidelity, prostitution, sin, addiction, abuse, emotional distress, financial irresponsibility. But, but...Santa? Sometimes I wish the had story ended with Santa being real and sex being false.