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I'm tellin' you why

Considering how much deceit parents engage in at Christmas time, perhaps the line in "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" ought to be you'd better not lie, you'd better not pout

For a celebration of peace and love and joy, the Christmas spirit seems to involve a surprising degree of sneaking and skullduggery. Yesterday, I caught myself telling Alec not to lie, because Santa Claus would know, and I felt like the worst kind of hypocrite. Nothing like encouraging honesty in your children by engaging in an elaborate deception about reindeer, presents and good behavior!

The Santa Claus scam is a recipe for disillusionment and cynicism -- a plot perpetuated by the entirety of the grown-up world against innocent children who don't know enough to look a gift-horse in the mouth, a vast conspiracy to trick children into behaving with the threat of a mysterious, all-knowing old man who'll withhold his bounty if they don't fall into line. Is it any wonder children are bitter when they discover they've been hoodwinked? Maybe the reason so many teen-agers are grumpy and resentful is that they're still mad about the whole Santa thing.

I vividly remember my disillusionment when, at eight-years-old, I discovered Santa Claus wasn't real. I only had myself to blame, I was reading one of my mother's magazines (something I'm fairly certain she wouldn't have wanted me to do) and I stumbled across an article about when to tell your children that Santa didn't exist. Luckily for my mom, she didn't have to worry about that question any more. My sense of betrayal was epic; I'd already accepted that the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy weren't real, but to discover that Santa was only a figment of my imagination was heartbreaking.

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Of course, indignant as I was, I was too canny to admit that I didn't believe any more; that might have stopped the gravy train. All the big, fun presents at our house came from Santa: the toy kitchen, the Light Bright, the Holly Hobby sewing machine, the silver ten speed bike. Mom and dad gave us practical gifts like pajamas and calendars, which we unwrapped on Christmas Eve. The real excitement of Christmas was waking up at 3:00 a.m. and sneaking down to see the unwrapped gifts Santa had left under the tree and in our stockings. There was no telling what might happen once my parents knew that I'd been disabused of the notion that Santa was responsible for all the largesse, and I wasn't taking any chances. I'm thirty-six and my brother is thirty and Santa still leaves a little something in our stockings at my parents' house. Make of that what you will.

In spite of my own happy memories of Santa presents, before I had children (when I knew everything there was to know about raising them), I had my doubts about whether Santa was a good thing. I thought it was vaguely sleazy to threaten children with lumps of coal and switches in their stockings to get them to behave. Surely enlightened parents would avoid the whole Santa Claus myth, or at least downplay it and focus on the positive, gift giving aspects, rather than the vaguely paranoia-inducing he sees you when you're sleeping, bits. I planned to keep Santa related activities to a minimum: no waiting in line to sit on Santa's lap, no extravagant gifts that an imaginary person gets all the credit for, and above all, no invoking Santa to guarantee good behavior.

This smug position lasted, oh, about two years. Just until Drew (our oldest) was old enough to know who Santa was, and what he could do for a good little boy. It was downhill from there, although I do try to hold out until August before I start talking about presents and Santa's naughty/nice list. A few days ago Adam left the house and used his cell phone to call Alec in the guise of Santa with a timely reminder that calling people "idiot" was liable to provoke the direst consequences. It's a bit soon to tell, but I can report that Alec hasn't used the word again since then.

Which, I suppose is why parents are willing to engage in this deception year after year, letting Santa get all the credit for the gifts that they shopped so hard for. Other than colluding with Toys R Us and Wal-Mart to encourage good behavior, Adam and I try hard to make Christmas about something other than commercialism and ten page wish lists; we buy presents for the Salvation Army's Angel Tree, we talk about "the real meaning of Christmas," and we have a whole slew of non-present related Christmas traditions. But in this one regard, the expedience of a really good threat wins out. We'll just have to hope that the nice will outweigh the naughty in the long term.
About the Author:  
Melissa Lipscomb
lives in Austin with her children Drew, Franny, Alec and husband Adam. Some days she feels like she's figuring out, and others she's just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Visit her blog.



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