Every year I suffer through all the hype surround the big man in a red suit. I am affectionately known by my friends and family as “The Grinch.” While I support the celebration of the birth of Christ, and I love listening to traditional Christmas music, I do not put up a tree or lights or tell my son Santa Clause exists. These beliefs stem from an experience I had as a child.
My parents spent the first seven years of my life convincing me Santa existed; he watched every move I made, and he punished or rewarded me accordingly with my presents. Yes, I received a bundle of switches one year for Christmas, and my behavior improved dramatically in subsequent years. Hooray for Santa’s naughty list!
Then my world imploded. My parents divorced, and my mother, who gained custody, went back to school. As Christmas drew closer, I tried hard to be good. I did chores I had never done before—making my own breakfast, sorting laundry and washing dishes—in the hope that I would get some unforgettable present from Santa that I had my eye on all year.
Three days before Christmas my mom took my brother and me to the local fire station. I walked inside and marveled at the mountain of toys towering before me. I was overwhelmed, excited and speechless. A man took my quivering hand and led me toward the pile. He told me to pick one.
My glee burst from my chest. So many toys, but I only get to pick one. My 7-year-old eyes scanned the Easy-Bake Ovens, Barbie dolls, baby dolls, stuffed animals and other toys. I finally narrowed my choice down to two: a Malibu Barbie and a blue-green monkey with a diaper and pacifier. I held one in each hand trying to make a decision. Finally, the man who led me to the mountain of toys walked up beside me. He asked if I had chosen yet. I looked up and told him, “I don’t know. I really like them both.”
A woman approached from one of the far corners of the room where some adults were talking quietly and watching my brother and me choose our gifts. She said, “Why don’t you just take them both?”
I was horrified. Taking only my fair share was one of the few values my parents had instilled in me. I knew that after the divorce we were dirt poor. I knew, after I saw the mountain of toys at the fire station, we were one of the families receiving Christmas gifts from charity. I imagined all the homeless and poor children standing inside fire stations just like this one, looking at toys and thinking Santa had deposited them there, but I knew better. Santa came down the chimney. He didn’t deliver to fire stations.
It was a sobering moment. The glee of Christmas sank into my feet and was replaced by anger. I didn’t want to suffer the humiliation of a handout or face the realization that Santa was not real.
But I also knew that it would be greedy and disrespectful to take two toys when there could be another little girl on her way to the fire station at that moment hoping—praying—Santa had left her a Malibu Barbie, the one she had always wanted. I looked up at the woman and voiced my concern for that unknown little girl and placed the Barbie back in the pile.
As I left with my little monkey, I saw tears fill the eyes of the adults.
I was outraged. In that moment, I accepted there was no such thing as Santa. I realized my parents had lied to me in order to guilt me into being kind, respectful and well behaved. In that moment, I vowed I would never lie to my children in order to get good behavior.
I’ve kept that promise. My son has grown up well behaved, and he knows right from wrong—not out of the fear of not receiving presents, but because I would punish or reward him accordingly.
I often question the rationale of lying to our children about anything, especially Santa Clause. What kind of society are parents creating as first peers by lying to our children? To me, it’s no wonder when children become teenagers and hate their parents. Who wouldn’t hate someone who lied to them since birth?
While I respect every parent’s right to decide what they tell their children, I know that I wouldn’t want to make anyone feel the way that I felt that Christmas at the fire station.