As a young, Jewish child, I spent a lot of time each December vicariously enjoying Christmas. I devoured my classmates’ stories of waking up Christmas morning after a night of fitful sleep, rushing down the stairs, and tearing open present after present. Christmas had it all. Excitement. Stockings. Horticulture. Most importantly, Christmas had Santa Claus, the corpulent benefactor of every child’s dreams.
Hanukkah, on the other hand, is not a holiday for kids. It demands patience and politeness over eight nights. What kid has enough of a poker face to withstand receiving a package of white Hanes crew socks as a gift after he slogged through a day of school, t-ball practice, and dinner in anticipation of Legos or Transformers? Seven-year-old me certainly did not. He (I) just wanted a yearly delivery from the USPS’s fiercest and most magical competition. Was that too much to ask?
One Sunday, in Hebrew school, I mentioned to my friend Micah that I thought it was a lot of BS (or whatever a first-grader would say) that we Jews didn’t have a Santa Claus of our own.
“Josh, Santa isn’t real,” Micah told me.
“Think about it. It’s ridiculous. How do deer fly? How does he get all over the world in one night? What about houses with no chimneys?”
He brought up all the classic Santa Claus questions. I was floored. I’d never considered the issue critically before. In fact, I felt like kind of a dummy. I took the case to the ultimate arbiters of fact, my parents.
“Hey mom and dad,” I said, trying to sound casual and informed. “I was wondering why we don’t have a Santa Claus, and Micah said that Santa isn’t even real. You guys have any thoughts on that?”
Now, here’s where my parents could have set the record straight and confirmed my blossoming skepticism. They could have given me a lesson about faith and the benefits of believing in something impossible. In short, they could have told me the truth. Instead, they gave me the runaround.
“Well, our Christian friends believe in Santa Claus, but we have our own stories and traditions,” my mom told me.
She didn’t lie, exactly, but she certainly didn’t come clean. As an adult, I understand that she was trying to stop me from inadvertently ruining Christmas for all of my friends with facts and logic. And I get it. Seven-year-olds are not known for their tact or discretion. I probably would have let the cat out of the supernatural bag of toys the very next day. Still, she was my mom. And she hung me out to dry.
I was left believing that Santa Claus did exist, but he was some kind of wondrous anti-Semite, like a character from an early Walt Disney cartoon. My mom couldn’t have known that I would react that way, that she would somehow make everything worse by trying to finesse the situation. While I had previously felt sadly excluded, after talking to my parents I imagined my holiday woes were the result of deliberate omissions by the Mel Gibson of folklore.
When I finally learned once and for all from a Christian friend that Santa was a work of fiction, I felt like the world’s biggest rube.
“You know Santa’s just your parents, right?” he asked me, which was confusing, because if Santa was my parents then they were a couple of a-holes for never bringing any gifts home, not even a misfit toy (a thing I didn’t know about at the time because I’d never seen Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer). My friend clarified that Santa Claus was a myth, but each person’s parents kept that legend alive through a series of subterfuges culminating in an innocence-ending heartbreak. Finally, I got it.
My takeaways from this experience were two-fold.
- There is, ultimately, no Santa Claus.
- It is very important to speak carefully and diplomatically.
I have problems sometimes communicating bluntly. I think (and this is just conjecture here) that it may have something to do with the fact that my JEWISH parents let me, their JEWISH son continue to believe in Santa Claus to preserve the illusion of Christmas for others.
In my adult relationships, I strive toward openness and honesty. Sometimes what’s good for me may not be good for everyone, but at least if I’m up front about my own needs, I’m allowing people to make mature, adult decisions based on a complete overview of information. Tact has place, but ultimately, clarity is best for all parties in most situations.
If and when I have children of my own, I’m going to be a little more direct about the issue of religion. When my son or daughter asks me whether there is such a thing as Santa Claus, I will sit him or her down and tell the truth.
“There’s no such thing as Santa Claus. Also, there’s probably no such thing as God. When we die, it’s over. Sorry. That’s how it is. I love you. Your mother loves you. Enjoy your socks. Maybe it’ll be Legos tomorrow.”