My children play a game with me. It’s called the Santa Claus Game. In our home, Santa Claus is a game the parents play with the children, in which we pretend that there are magical beings like a big kind man who can wiggle his nose and fit through tiny spaces. At night the children sleep, and the parents pretend that they are magic by placing a stocking and 2-3 unmarked gifts under the tree from someone unknown. Then when the children come out, they smile and wink. Our children play the game with other kids because some parents don’t tell their children that it’s a game.
When our oldest kids were 5 and 3, my husband dressed up for a local Easter egg hunt as the Easter Bunny. We told our three year old, “Papa is going to play a game today, pretend to be the Easter Bunny today and make lots of little children laugh and find eggs with candy inside!” He was thrilled, and from then on, Papa was the Easter Bunny. When one of our labradors brought a stunned baby bunny to the back door, our son screamed, “the doggie killed the Easter Bunny!” We calmly said, “No honey, Papa is the Easter Bunny. This is a little rabbit from the garden, and it’s the dogs job to hunt. ” Magic preserved. Lesson about the cycle of life accomplished.
When my daughter lost her first tooth, she found it in a special box in my room a week later. I looked at her with a twinkle in my eye and said, “Those are our special memories of my tiny baby girl, and you can look at them anytime you like. They will be here for you. I am your tooth fairy. My wings move so fast, you can’t see them.” I didn’t want her to feel like someone had taken a part of her body, something she might treasure and need to see again in order to process her changing body, her growing up. She giggled and played with her tooth, for which she’d already been generously paid $2 (first teeth are a big deal). Then, she put it back in her box. She brushed my back like she was looking for wings and said to her little brother, “Our Mommy is the Tooth Fairy! She has my tooth!”
- Children want more than anything for their parents to play with them. By telling them we are Santa, we play a wonderfully magical game. The joy of Christmas doesn’t come from a big mystery man in a red suit that we never see. It’s the character of Santa – the playfulness, the smiles, the laughter, the warmth – that children love about him. The reason they love him for these things? They yearn for it in their lives. Children want adults who will be Santa-like. And they particularly want that in their parents, not a displaced affection for some strange, mystical, elusive legend. Elusive love and affection train children to look outside their homes and their own proximity for their needs to be met. They want the playfulness, warmth, smiles and laughter in their own home. If you haven’t seen this year’s Ikea Christmas Commercial, The Other Letter, take a few minutes to let the message sink in. Your children don’t really want a big jolly man. They want to play with you.
- If Santa can get into our house, then so can zombies. And we can’t have that. A kid at school taught my once 5 year old about how zombies can only be killed if you stab them in the brain. Ever since, he’s thought that zombies will get into our house. We have explained, from our extensive knowledge of The Walking Dead, that zombies are stupid, they don’t know how to open doors, and they move pretty slow. We’ve explained that the dogs would tell us if there was someone (or squirrels, dogs, UPS men, etc.) coming near the house – that’s their job. Mommies and Daddies are not supposed to let large, strange men into the house while the entire family sleeps. That’s just not safe! To us, the sense of protection – that our house is “buttoned up tight” – is paramount. Much more important than perpetuating a legend.
- Ultimately, if Santa’s not real, and I tell my children he is, that makes me dishonest. I don’t lie to my kids. I don’t want my kids to lie to me. The idea of having to pop an enormous joy bubble in my kids’ hearts seemed, well, just plain horrible. So instead, we built a joy bubble that’s made of truth and never has to burst. Mommy and Papa are Santa, and we share the games together. The games won’t stop because parents and children can always play together, even when children are grown.
- In our home, Jesus is real and could perform miracles. Santa is not alive and didn’t. We are clear about life and death, past and present, earth and heaven. In our home, Santa Claus was kind to people who needed help. We repeat every year that Saint Nicholas became SAINT – NA – CLOAS…. San-Ta-Claus…. Santa Claus. We show them pictures of this wonderful man. Santa Claus was a man who lived a long time ago and is now dead, but that people play the Santa Game because he represents kindness and love. Santa Claus loved Jesus, who was also kind and wonderful. Jesus died too, but then he rose from the dead. Santa Claus did not. What is similar about them is that neither of them is physically with us right now, but although we can’t see or talk to them (the Santa at the department store is a man dressed in a costume, just like Papa dressed like an Easter Bunny), we see their warmth and generosity.
Play is the language of children. parents who play bring more joy than any sparkling wrapped gifts on Christmas morning. Believe in that magic!