My youngest daughter recently presented me with her letter to Santa.
This was not some slapdash effort that she threw together on a whim. Not by a long shot. She began constructing the letter in mid-October. It is now in its sixth iteration, totals $1,900, and is ready to be sent off to jolly old Saint Nick who, according to my daughter, lives at One Christmas Tree Lane, in the section of the North Pole known as Old Christmas Village. The zip code is unknown, and fortunately, unnecessary.
As I promise to mail her letter first thing tomorrow, I can’t help but sigh. How can a letter such as this yield anything but disappointment on Christmas morning? It’s true that this particular wish list got a little out of hand. I blame the American Girl Doll catalogues that seem to arrive to our home on a daily basis.
But much of what she asked for are items her peers in this community already possess: UGG boots, a Wii, an iPod, concert tickets ... you get the idea.
How do parents handle this, I wonder? By “this,” I mean the inherent inequity of Santa’s generosity. Why, my kids have asked over the years, would Santa give one child a Haro BMX bike, an iPod and/or UGGs, but not give another child any big ticket items? How is this fair? How do parents bring reason to the Santa story? It’s troubled me from the beginning.
I remember, as a child, asking my father why Santa gifts varied from household to household, and especially why the gifts were wrapped for most kids, but not for us. You know, he said, we parents leave Santa money for the gifts he brings and some families can only pay so much. OK, I remember thinking, but this explanation fails to explain why our presents were not wrapped.
Like many Christmas revelers, I have tried over the years to balance the Santa story with the Jesus story and top it off with a fair dose of give-back. My kids actively participate in our family’s efforts to gather donations for the Belmont Food Pantry, and clothes and gently used toys for Goodwill. When they were little, I made sure we had a kid-friendly nativity set as well as the traditional Santa and Rudolph cuddle friends. Holiday books were balanced for religious and secular themes, and we often baked a birthday cake for baby Jesus on Christmas Eve.
Yet, when I recently asked my eight year old what Christmas was all about, she replied:
“Christmas is about Santa being generous to all the good children of the world.”
“What about Jesus?” I asked.
“Well,” she said “Santa doesn’t give presents to grownups in heaven, so I guess Jesus is out of luck.”
It’s Dec. 6 and the madness is well underway. Like many Americans, my family will spend too much money on stuff nobody really needs. There will be the traditional exchange of gift cards with the cousins, and as always, my mother-in-law will not particularly appreciate the gift I picked out for her.
As for the all-anticipated Christmas morning, well, the children will continue learning to balance their disappointment with their gratitude. UGG boots, Under Armour apparel, fancy electronics, and backstage tickets to a Taylor Swift concert are not likely to find their way under our tree. A few wish list items for each of the kids will have been obtained (wrapped!) and placed by the tree. They may be from Santa or from mom and dad. Hard to say – and amid the chaos, who notices?
Then, in what feels like the blink of a weary eye, the holiday season is over. The Jan. 1 diet looms, the weather turns relentlessly frigid, and the bills begin to trickle in.
But that’s later. Right now, I have to go mail a letter to Santa and hope for the best.