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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.


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.