Keeping Santa’s identify a secret is much harder today for parents than when I was a boy. Back then we didn’t have the Internet or the onslaught of cynicism that makes it hard for kids today to be as gullible as we were.
When I was a boy I honestly believed in Kris Kringle, the elves and reindeers. Like many other Generation X’ers, I eagerly awaited the annual airing of the now classic TV movie I looked “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”, in large part because I really believed the story. I never bothered to question why Santa, even when he looked a little different at the Sears my grandparents took me to.
Today you have to work harder and smarter to keep Santa’s secret a secret, especially once your children enter elementary school. Every year, without fail, my 10-year-old son Jonathan or six-year-old daughter Elena approach me about yet another kid who has blabbed that their parents told them Santa doesn’t exist and that in fact, the real Santa is them.
In order to keep the Santa story going longer, I’ve developed a number of strategies that I think can help you do the same. Here’s a couple of the Christmas parenting tricks I use with my own kids:
1. Be consistent with what your family’s version of the Santa story is. In our house, we tell our children that the true origin of Christmas is Jesus but that Santa is his helper and he’s in charge of rewarding kids for being naughty or nice. As I’ve written before, this is the one way we’ve been able to harmonize what has traditionally seem like two opposite forces of Christmas: Jesus birth and Santa.
Our version of Santa also includes a customized version of the Santa gift list. We tell our kids that according to Santa’s rules kids that are 5 and under can request up to three gifts but kids 6 and up (very convenient for me because my daughter Elena is now 6) can only request one gift. In addition to their Santa list, we allow them to tell us, their parents, what gifts they would like for us to buy them – provided we can afford it. (By the way, we also tell them that even if travel during the holidays Santa still delivers).
A new tradition we recently added to Christmas was that we introduced the Elf on the Shelf toy to our two and six-year-old girls. This is a miniature, ceramic-looking Elf that we set high away from girls. The story that we created around this Elf is that approximately 20 days before Christmas the Elf magically arrives in the house to observe how the kids behave. Every day we place the Elf in an entirely different part of the house and we tell the girls to find him. At no point are they suppose to touch him. We tell the girls that if they touch the Elf he will tell Santa that they have been naughty and their Christmas will be ruined. The Elf on the Shelf can be purchased online and I highly recommend it for parents with children ages two to about six.
2. Unmask fake Santas. No, I’m not advocating for your kids to pull Santa’s beard or knock down his hat. What I mean is that whenever your kids and you see a Santa at a mall, theme park or anywhere, you should proactively say something to your kids like, “ha, look, there’s another fake Santa.” This is an important way you can indirectly reinforce the special mystic about the real Santa who lives in the North Pole and is never seen in public.
In my case, my family actually messed the Santa story up for me by lying to me about a Santa that was obviously my cousin Titico. On Christmas Eve, when I was seven, my two aunts tried to make me believe that my dorky-looking, overweight cousin in a Santa suit Titico was actually St. Nick. That very night I stopped believing Santa was real.
Another reason why exposing fake Santas is good is because many Santas don’t wear the red suit with dignity. Many Santas are too skinny, have poorly kept beards, have terrible costumes or are downright rude with kids. I would rather be the one to “out” these Santas to my children than to have my son see something strange in one and suddenly say “Hey Daddy, who are you kidding, there’s no such thing as Santa?!” (Elena now likes to spot fake Santas so she can say, “yeah, look daddy, there’s another fake Santa.” It makes her feel real smart while indirectly reinforcing that the real Santa is not around).
3. Fiercely protect the Santa myth. A major mistake parents make is that they are not paying attention to protecting the Santa myth. If you are to preserve Santa you need to be ready to constantly defend and uphold him. When another adult or child says something that hurts Santa’s image you need to take your child aside and refute what they heard or saw. If you don’t consistently do this, little by little the Santa myth will deteriorate. The toughest time is when your kids are in elementary because there’s always a pesky school friend – even for first graders like my Elena – that will tell your kids that Santa is not real and that their parents told them so. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, get ready and be prepared to vigorously defend Santa.
4. Talk about Santa when the kids THINK they are overhearing your conversations. A couple weeks ago, Elena came back to my wife and I with some early doubts about Santa. My wife and I spoke to her about Santa and told her a couple of our own childhood Santa stories to reinforce that St. Nick is who he says he is. To make her believe what we had said to her we then purposely waited for a quiet moment when we knew she could overhear us and we began to pretend that we were reminiscing about something Santa did for us when we were little, about the time he delivered a super cool gift we really wanted and how we always tried to catch a glimpse of him.
If you’re thinking it’s a lot of work to keep St. Nick a secret, you are right but for me, it’s totally worth the extra effort. Through my kids’ enjoyment of Santa, Rudolph and the elves I get to rediscover the part of me that wishes he still believed in Santa.
P.S. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to download the 2010 PapiBlogger Holiday Gift Guide free here that I put together with Mama Contemporanea. I’m sure you’ll find it helpful!