Christmas is in the air, and as a Jew, I love the day. However, as a new mom, I’ve got a problem. It’s big. And I’m feeling ho-ho-hopeless. (Sorry. I asked Santa for a lame Christmas wordplay this year and I got one.)
Now back to me being a Jew and living through a lifetime of Christmases very peacefully, blissfully, I might even say. Until now.
True story: one year when I was a teenager, I went to movie on Christmas day and there was only one other guy in the theater. It turned out to be my rabbi, sitting quietly in his cable-knit sweater eating popcorn. So you see, I never felt left out. I could appreciate the pageantry, the feeling that the world was stopping, while somehow getting an even stronger sense of my own identity.
Now, here’s the complication that is dawning on me as the lights go up and the carols turn on and I have a two-year-old half-Jew with lots of questions. How am I supposed to handle the Santa thing?
Please stop reading here if you are around any young children who might be able to understand some of the things I’m about to suggest about Santa. Seriously. This is the North Pole of spoiler alerts. My thoughts on this are for adults only. Now back to my regularly scheduled mom panic.
My husband loved Santa, being a Catholic and all, but he’s kind of turned his back on his own faith. Still, he enjoys the ritual of the holiday. Because he grew up with the whole Saint Nick thing, it’s comfortable for him. For me, it just seems — while very sweet and adorable and wonderful — wholly strange.
I know this is sacred territory and I don’t mean to diminish Santa’s glory, but as someone looking in from the outside, when my son asks about Santa, I say what I’m supposed to say, keeping it as brief as possible, while scrounging around inside myself like a drunk woman looks for keys in her purse. All I can come up with is this: I will manipulate you with a lie so that you will be good. I’m missing something, right?
This will seem so silly to those of you who grew up with Santa, but I really try not to lie to my child. It’s that simple.
On the other hand, there is no Cat in the Hat. Cats don’t even talk, so it’s lie on lie crime. The characters on “Yo, Gabba Gabba” are just grown-ups in suits. There are no “three little bears” sitting on chairs like in “Goodnight, Moon.” My point: There is nothing inherently wrong with making up fantastical characters, especially kindly ones.
The part that gets me is the linking of the gifts to the being “nice.” And on that front, I must admit that I bribe my kid in lots of little ways, because Dr. Karp said I could in “The Happiest Toddler on the Block.” If you put on your pajamas now, I will give you a candy, I tell him, and he gets a chewable tangerine Vitamin D gumdrop that passes for candy when you’re two. That’s a flat out bribe. If you get in your car seat in five seconds, I’ll give you a juice box. That’s a bribe. Sometimes, I have to keep things moving and toddlers dawdle.
If I’m at peace with mild bribing, and I’m at peace with fictional characters, so why is it still hard to do the Santa thing? I never had a Christmas tree growing up, and I don’t care if we have one now, that doesn’t threaten my own sense of identity. Santa, though, just gives me pause.
Maybe it comes down to this: I hate being a sucker. And I don’t want to turn my kid into one, when it seems so obvious what’s going on.
Still, generations of kids go along with the story, no matter how many bad strap-on beards and pillow bellies they see, and they love it, they’re obsessed with it, it brings them joy. It’s an experience I’ve never had, so I’m not sure how to pass it along. Maybe this year for Hanukkah I’ll ask dad to handle Santa.
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