I do my best not to lie to my children. If a shot is going to hurt, I acknowledge that fact. If they want to know about sex, I give them the straightforward – albeit simplified – response. If they see pictures of unrest in Iran on the cover of a magazine in the grocery store, I try to explain the importance of fair elections.
And when Zach came home from his Jewish preschool talking about God, I was honest then, too. “Many people believe that God exists,” I told him. “I do not.”
“Well, I believe in God,” he told me.
“That’s fine. A lot of people do. I just don’t.” To be frank, it made me uncomfortable. I am not at all on the fence on this one. I am quite sure that God does not exist. And I do not like my kids being indoctrinated into a belief that I do not hold. However, I made the choice to send them to a Jewish preschool because it is their culture, and I get that part of that package is a discussion of the Big Guy. So be it. It’s definitely not the worst thing he could pick up in preschool.
Now that we are here in New Jersey, however, he is in a public kindergarten. With children of different faiths. But mostly children of one faith. The predominate one here in the U.S. In the middle of December.
So my kid is coming home from school believing in Santa Claus. This is a hell of a lot worse than believing in God, I must say. At least that’s a belief that fits into the general arc of my own culture. Santa Claus is big problem on several levels.
I think even if we were Christian, I would not want my kids spending this solemn and holy day thinking about some dude in a red velvet suit. As a member of a minority faith, the Santa Mania that grips our culture in the month of December is enough to cause a minor seizure. People in diners lean over to ask my children if they have been good and then to promise that stockings they haven’t hung and trees we do not have will be laden with presents brought by some fictional character who breaks into our house in the middle of the night. Everywhere we go, we are accosted by guys with pillow bellies and crusty fake beards, wanting to grab my kids and promise them whatever goodies they might desire.
Here’s a little tip, people. Not everyone celebrates Christmas. You are promising gifts and festivities to small people that they will not receive. And, even worse in my book, this Santa Mania holds that good boys and girls get whatever they desire. Well, here’s another news flash. Santa brings the good shit to the rich kids. Poor parents or even those who are just struggling a little bit can’t deliver on the promise, which means that their kids learn a terrific lesson – Santa is fundamentally unfair and discriminatory. Fan-fucking-tastic.
Today, my child will participate in a Polar Express party at school. I do not mind this so much, as they are giving equal time to Kwanzaa and Chanukah, and they are making it about bringing a book and a cultural tradition come to life. The teacher has been careful to present Santa as a part of one culture. However, since the majority of the kids are Christian, they are all blathering on about Santa in every free moment.
“Santa’s not real,” I told Zachary. “But you shouldn’t tell that to the other children, because he is a part of the Christian tradition and they may believe in him. A lot of people do believe in him.”
“Well, I believe in him,” my son replied. We had this conversation about eight times before I decided that, hell, at least my kid wouldn’t be the one ruining Santa for the other children. I could take comfort in the fact that I had told him the truth and he had chosen not to believe it.
“Why hasn’t anyone seen Santa?” he asked.
“Well, people who believe in Santa say that he only comes when you are sleeping.”
“But what if I pretend to be asleep? Then I’ll see him.”
“People who believe in Santa say that he can tell if you are just pretending.”
“Well, I believe in Santa and if I am good he’ll bring me something in my stocking.”
“You don’t have a stocking,” I pointed out.
“Oh, yes I do. I have one I made in art class in school. And Santa is going to fill it on Christmas.”
“Honey, we don’t celebrate Christmas.”
“But I believe in Santa Claus, so he is going to come.”
I lost my whole resolve not to fight a losing battle. Because now the poor kid was going to think he was being punished by Santa Claus for some infraction of the maddeningly oblique “Be Good” rule. “Zach, Santa Claus is not real. But don’t mention that to your friends at school.”
“Maybe you could pretend to be Santa and if I am good you could put something into the stocking like money or a present.” Oh, good grief. It is tiring enough dealing with the eight nights of Chanukah, now he wants me to pretend to be some offensively commercial figment of another religion’s imagination?
Come the twenty-fifth, we’re planning on trying not to mention that this day is actually Christmas. Maybe he just won’t notice that Santa didn’t come because he won’t realize that this is the big day. No matter what, however, my husband and I are really looking forward to January.