Cooper was born at the end of September, so he was a very teeny-tiny, barely functioning poop-pantsed baby when he had his first Christmas. He spent most of the day eyes glazed, swatting at balls of discarded wrapping paper like a bored cat. Because of this, we felt no need to mark any of his presents as being “From Santa,” or setting out milk and cookies, or any of those other things that Santa-loving folks do. Next Christmas, he was barely a year old, so it still seemed basically pointless. Then, somewhere around his fourth Christmas, I realized that I kind of forgot about Santa Claus.
Most kids have horror stories from their youth about the time they found out that SPOILER ALERT: Santa isn’t real. There’s talk of betrayal, tears, and an emptiness that persists well into adulthood. I don’t have a story like that, because I don’t remember ever believing in Santa Claus. In fact, I specifically remember being five years old and not believing in Santa. I always grew up with the impression that Santa was a nice character that some parents taught their children about. He’s not real, but it’s also not polite to tell people that. So basically I equated Santa with Jesus very early in life.
I haven’t sat Cooper down and said, “Honey, much like Mommy’s hopes and dreams, Santa is a cruel joke. Better learn now.” I just talk about Santa in vague terms. I read him The Night Before Christmas, but made it just another story. He brought up Santa a few times on his own, after hearing other kids at school, and I would just nod and agree with whatever he was saying about reindeer and presents. But on Christmas morning, I told him exactly who got him each of his gifts. His family loves him and worked hard to give him an amazing Christmas, so as far as I’m concerned, the gratitude should be going to them, not a fictional character.
But, like every single other parenting decision I make, the internet seems to be conspiring to make me feel guilty about it. Between Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, all I see are giant holiday to-dos. Christmastime is full of The Elf on the Shelf, with elaborately staged productions involving words spelled out in Cheerios, hiding places, and even toilet scenes(!). From what I gather, the threat of a fat guy in the North Pole isn’t enough of a deterrent for bad behavior, so parents are now threatening their children with a miniature stalker who watches their every move and fucks shit up at night? I find the entire thing to be completely confusing. Yet, there’s still a part of me that feels guilty for not wanting to do it.
I felt the same way recently, when my Facebook feed was filled with multi-day Easter extravaganzas. St. Patrick’s day was filled with gifts and Leprechaun traps– I didn’t even know celebrating St. Patrick’s day in any way other than wearing green and getting hammered was a thing! But apparently it is, and Cooper’s missing out. At least, that’s what I think for about half a second before I remember that leprechaun shenanigans aside, my kid isn’t missing out on anything.
The night before Easter, Cooper and I dyed eggs. I bought him things for his Easter basket while he was sitting in the cart watching me. I spent less than ten bucks. On Easter Sunday, we went to my step-mother’s family farm, where Cooper ate too much chocolate, hunted for eggs, and got to ride a tractor. We then went outside and spent a half an hour playing baseball with a stick we found and a Spider-Man bouncy ball from his Easter basket. To him, the day was perfect. On St. Patrick’s day, I threw him in a green shirt and sent him to school. I don’t think it registered one way or another. On Christmas, I made a huge brunch, he opened presents, and we spent the day with family. He was happy.
I don’t want to change our dynamic. I want Cooper to feel like holidays are about family. That we should be good to each other throughout the year because that’s what you do with people you love and respect– not because of Santa, or Elf on the Shelf, or anyone else. Sure, we may not have Pinterest-perfect holidays, but neither will I have to look at the horror on his face when he finds out that these traditions are all smoke and mirrors. Except for the tooth fairy. I sincerely want him to believe that there’s a crazy lady who sneaks into childrens’ bedrooms and keeps a collection of their teeth. Because that shit is terrifying.