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Santa Claus in the ASD household

The store is moved, and two thirds of it is on the shelves; the computer that died (which was ancient) has been replaced with a computer that's less ancient, and it's now sitting on the new countertop in said store; I've finished contract negotiations for something upcoming in future (about which I'll speak more when things are completely firm), and I've been working at catching up on the writing I lost to the move and the convention.

I still have outstanding reading (not books, not reviews, but pre-pubbed things I really want to read), which I hope to catch up on in the week to follow.

Because it's heading into that time of year, I want to talk about Santa Claus in our ASD household.

Santa Claus is one of those magical memories of early childhood; it's an act, a play, an annual daydream. I understand that for many children and many families, Santa Claus is part of what makes the holiday special.

We had a few discussions about Santa Claus in my oldest son's early life--and we decided that in our house, there would be no Santa. Our reasons for it were pretty simple: Santa Claus is a lie. There are reasons for invoking that particular lie--but they're not reasons my oldest would have understood; what he would have clearly seen and known was that we'd lied to him. We'd told him that Santa Claus existed, when we knew, in fact, that he didn't. We would pretend to be Santa.

I think he would have enjoyed it, for what it's worth. I think he would have enjoyed the mystery and the desire to catch Santa in the act; I think he would have enjoyed the idea of someone sneaking into the house to leave presents.

But I think he would have also been very, very unhappy when the truth--as it always does, because it's some small part of coming-of-age--got out. Telling him that we were lying to him because it was a game wouldn't have worked because, in the way of small children everywhere, he would have argued that Santa did exist because his parents had told him so.

In his universe, it would have eroded his trust in us. It would have added an element of doubt and confusion that we felt would make things more difficult for him; he needed to believe that we were explaining the world as it actually was when he asked for explanations.

However, the question of Santa Claus did arise in grade one. The kids in his class were, of course, talking about Christmas, presents, and what they wanted from Santa. They probably did this in junior and senior kindergarten as well, but in the classroom environment of that time, he didn't pick up on it; with the grade one Teacher, he became slowly comfortable enough that he could. The other children absolutely insisted Santa Claus existed, and he came home to ask me about it.

So. I didn't want him to run back to school and insist that Santa did not, in fact, exist, but I didn't want to put myself in the position of agreeing, for the reasons mentioned above.

What I eventually said (because I'd been thinking about it for years) was this:

Santa Claus is a story we tell our children. It's not a lie, but like stories--The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which was one of the few books he liked as a small child--it's not factual. It's meant to evoke excitement and anticipation; it's meant to be a happy thing.

But, he said, one of the girls in his class insisted that Santa Claus really existed--her parents had told her so, and she absolutely believed them. This, of course, made sense to my son; he believed his own parents, after all. Why did her parents say this if it wasn't the truth?

I didn't want him to feel any scorn or derision; I didn't want him to be outraged by the idea that the parents were involved in an elaborate hoax.

"Because they love the story. It's a story they were told as children. It's a story they believed as children, and when your classmates have children of their own, they're likely to tell their own children the same story, for the same reason. Santa Claus doesn't exist, except as part of that story, but it's a happy story, and people want to share some of that happiness."

"But the children believe in him." (He called his classmates the "children" for a very long time.)

"Yes. Yes, they do."

There was a pause while he digested this. He finally said, "But it's okay to believe in Santa Claus?"

I said, "Yes. We can't tell you he exists in the real world, but yes--it's okay to believe it if you want."

And he said, "I think I'd like to believe it, then."

It was a very odd conversation, but in hindsight, I'm happy with it.


( 49 comments — Leave a comment )
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Dec. 2nd, 2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
It strikes me that your son's approach to this is a fine example of logic and its intersection with faith, and much clearer than many I've read from adults. He's a very intelligent person.
And I'm glad the move went well.
Dec. 3rd, 2010 07:04 am (UTC)
And I'm glad the move went well.

Sadly, well is not how it went. The store is open, but a third of the books are still in the garage, and construction is still ongoing. It's been... hmm. I'm about to start ranting. I'll stop now.
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Dec. 3rd, 2010 10:05 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 2nd, 2010 07:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, GOD, that last thing he said just got me through the heart.

The world is still a wonderful place, despite it being occasionally full of less-than-wonderful things. But it's stuff like this post that makes me still believe in the wonderfulness of it all... because I'd LIKE to believe it...
Dec. 2nd, 2010 08:46 pm (UTC)
Over here in Bavaria St. Nikolaus puts some small gifts into children's boots on December 6th, but the Christ Child brings the gifts on Christmas. I wonder how that would have worked out ^^.

This story also makes me curious on how you explained religion in general to your son. Feel free to ignore my curiosity there, though.

I never would have come up with a solution like that, by the way. Totally in awe.
Dec. 3rd, 2010 07:07 am (UTC)
This story also makes me curious on how you explained religion in general to your son. Feel free to ignore my curiosity there, though.

Religion as a topic did come up, at around the same time, because we had to explain the meaning of Christmas. Faith, for me, was harder to explain, although I think his take on it was not dissimilar. I can, for instance, say Santa Claus does not exist. God is more personal.
(no subject) - estara - Dec. 3rd, 2010 12:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 2nd, 2010 10:53 pm (UTC)
Wow, you handle things like that very well.

What I did when my son was told there's no Santa is tell him about St. Nicholas and how he lived hundreds of years ago, how the name Saint Nicholas through the ages got changed into Santa Clause, how he was the patron saint of all children, and how adults who believe his teachings about how to treat children and want to continue his work say they 'believe' in Santa Clause. So we believe in the good works of Santa not a real man at the North Pole.

He liked it and still says he believes in Santa. He just knows he's got the adult belief now.
Mar. 30th, 2012 08:41 pm (UTC)
thanks for your Santa angle
I've been searching everywhere for what to tell my son. Your idea is perfect for us, as we have already listened to a story called "The Real Autobiography of Santa Claus.
From one mom to another - thanks sl very much.
Dec. 3rd, 2010 12:04 am (UTC)
We chose not to tell our children about Santa for pretty much the same reasons. I've got Aspergers myself. I remember just feeling absolutely betrayed as a 1st grader when I caught my parents putting out the presents that said 'from Santa' on them and I didn't want my children to experience the same thing. I explained to the kids that other kids believe that Santa exists. Same as some kids believe their parents go to the hospital and the doctor gives them their new baby sibling. But I wanted to tell them the truth because I was hurt when I was a kid and I didn't want them to feel the same way. They respected that and didn't tell the other kids the truth about Santa (unfortunately, my oldest daughter insisted in her kindergarten class that babies came out of Mommy's vagina and I had to come to school to explain to her why that wasn't good - was working as a Midwife at the time so she knew more than your normal child)
Dec. 3rd, 2010 07:09 am (UTC)
We chose not to tell our children about Santa for pretty much the same reasons. I've got Aspergers myself. I remember just feeling absolutely betrayed as a 1st grader when I caught my parents putting out the presents that said 'from Santa' on them and I didn't want my children to experience the same thing.

This is partly what I was afraid of, fwiw. At base, whatever the reasons for it, it will be seen as a deception, because that's what it is. I think I might have tried to go the "surprise party" route, as in, try to explain that sometimes we lie in order to surprise people in a good way -- but I'm not sure it would have worked. It would have made him feel stupid for believing us, I think, and I wasn't willing to take that risk at the time.
(no subject) - amber_n_teal - Dec. 3rd, 2010 11:43 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 3rd, 2010 01:56 am (UTC)
When my daughter was a toddler - three maybe? - a Santa guy in a hotel lobby got seriously in her face, and kept trying to make her take a candy cane she Did Not Want.
This despite me telling him to please go away, and her hiding her face.
And me telling him, Really, Leave NOW.
We were in the middle of traveling, and I believe there was an overdue meal or nap involved as well.
It all ended up with her in screaming fits before the idiot guy finally backed off.

After that, she required lots of reassurance that The Red Guy wasn't real, was just some guy with a job being stupid.
Then we hit day care, and other kids' family stories.
Oh my.
("Yes, we buy presents, but Santa takes those and leaves new ones." wtf?)
There were many promises that The Red Guy wasn't going to come down our chimney, or steal the things we'd picked out.
She still (at 21) doesn't like him.
Dec. 3rd, 2010 07:11 am (UTC)
Okay, that Santa? Should have been fired on the spot. I'm actually astonished that anyone could be that in-your-face with a small child who was clearly uncomfortable when the parents weren't, say, desperately trying to get a picture. I personally hated the Santa pictures because I didn't want to sit in the lap of a stranger. We have one, I think, from when my sister and I were little.
(no subject) - lauowolf - Dec. 3rd, 2010 07:23 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 3rd, 2010 09:54 pm (UTC)
Well, I knew as a kid that *a* Santa did exist, who lived year round in North Pole, NY, and drove a red station wagon with the vanity plate S CLAUS, because we saw him. And let me just say that Santa should NOT eat chocolate pudding. Seriously.

In 4th grade (so I would've been 8), I was highly suspicious of the whole "Santa Claus" thing. So I conducted a secret experiment to prove Santa's existence / non-existence. I asked Santa for a specific gift, and made no mention of said gift to anyone else. (And not the hot toy of the year, either -- a biography of The Red Baron. Not something you'd be liable to guess by chance.) When it appeared under the tree (from 'Santa' even!) I knew that meant Santa existed. However, clearly there wasn't anyone flying all over the entire earth in one night, popping down chimneys to leave gifts, because that was physically impossible. So how to resolve the two?

Since I was Catholic, and familiar with praying for the intercession of the saints, it made perfect sense that this is what Santa Claus was -- the intercession of Saint Nicholas to inspire people with the holiday spirit and giving gifts that they otherwise wouldn't. So he didn't really exist, but at the same time, he did exist. 30-odd years later, this explanation still makes sense to me. :-)
Dec. 4th, 2010 06:31 am (UTC)
Hmm. Santa is a tough one for me. I can remember the strong desire to believe and the agony of wondering if he was real or not as a kid, but I always thought I would tell my potential children Santa was real. . .until I worked at a Christmas Shop. I worked as Santa's elf for a summer (North Pole, Alaska. . .you get the idea) and just watching the same scene play out over and over:

Child walks in, looks at Santa, gets this look of awe and fear. Looks to parents for reassurance that yes, OMG, this is the real deal, SANTA IS REAL? Santa plays along, the parents work at convincing the child. And the child isn't sure if he wants to believe, but maybe, because I mean the adults are so very *sure*.

Something about watching that scene play out over and over made me hurt somewhere inside. It started to feel too much like the parents were pushing their expectations and desires onto the child, and the child didn't ask for it. Even when the child was leaning towards being ready to not believe, there's mom and dad and grandparents pushing the other way. I like your way better. I would want my kid to feel like there's magic and wonder in the world, but not through what essentially does boil down to a lie. Even a nice lie.
Dec. 6th, 2010 05:44 pm (UTC)
As a child, we weren't really aware of Christmas as a holiday/ present-giving day - Chinese New Year was more of the thing - until we moved to England when I was six.
Then we became incultated with the notion of Christmas and Santa. I can remember as a child not really believing my classmates that such a being existed, especially since he never put an appearance in at my house - and I was a good child ;). The presents were always marked from my parents etc.
However, on the off chance that logic was wrong and that everybody else was right, I did write a letter to Father Christmas one year asking for an cap gun (and a doll just in case he was real, I didn't want him to think I was a freak wanting boys' toys instead of girls') and posted it care of the North Pole.
Needless to say, I got neither...
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 20th, 2011 12:23 pm (UTC)
Santa, tooth fairy etc
I went with the "it's fun to pretend" approach with my Aspergers son and it seemed to work well.
Jan. 6th, 2011 06:10 pm (UTC)
Hi :)

Are you going to be doing a House Name signing at Bakka Phoenix?
Jan. 12th, 2011 03:09 am (UTC)
Hi :)

Are you going to be doing a House Name signing at Bakka Phoenix?

I'm happy to sign the book for anyone who comes into the store - but the store is not quite finished yet, so I don't think we have any official anything until February at the earliest...
Jan. 6th, 2011 10:27 pm (UTC)
We talked of playing the "Santa Game" with our children, but they did not put out stockings on Christmas eve. We had presents around the tree on Christmas morning from one another and occasionally a present would be marked as "from Santa" but always with the understanding that that was just for fun. I always liked L. M. Montgomery's (Anne of Green Gables) take on fairies - if they were 'really, truly' they wouldn't be fairies and that was the way we approached the Santa issue. I was not prepared to lie to my children, but they could understand the pretending and make-believe distinction.
Mar. 16th, 2011 07:37 pm (UTC)
With so little left undiscovered on this planet, and so few mysteries left unsolved, with my children I felt it would be a shame to withhold one of the few completely magical things they'd get to experience, even if only for a relatively short period of time.

- Shane Rebenschied
Apr. 9th, 2011 02:49 pm (UTC)
Hmm, that?s some cool information. I would search on Google to find other relevant articles. Actually, I came across your blog on Google Blog Search. I?m going to add your RSS feed to my reader. Continue posting please!

Jun. 2nd, 2012 08:19 am (UTC)
Linked by jimhines, reading backwards, and now I'll stop lurking to comment:

I can't remember ever believing in Santa. I don't know if my parents made a conscious decision about it, or if it didn't occur to them to pretend to be Santa. I imagine that they were motivated largely by a desire to cultivate gratitude (I was always supposed to write thank-you notes, too). So they didn't sign gifts as being from Santa, nor did any of the other adults in my life. I don't remember if they told me stories about Santa, or if I only got it in literature (we were all fond of The Polar Express). There was certainly never any of this business of leaving out milk and cookies, although I do remember that presents (and stocking-stuffers) would appear Christmas morning.

But there were never any presents from Santa. And I was a very logical child. Santa gave gifts to good children. I was a good child, so if Santa gave gifts, I ought to be getting some. I never received gifts from Santa. Therefore Santa did not exist.
But I must also have understood very young that other children did believe in Santa, and that it was not a problem that they did, because I don't remember any difficulties about it.

In retrospect, considering how I reacted (as a much older child) when I felt that I was being lied to, it's probably a very good thing that my parents never attempted to convince me it was true. On the other hand, I would probably have been inclined to give my parents more leeway than I gave to orthodontists.

Edited at 2012-06-02 08:20 am (UTC)
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( 49 comments — Leave a comment )