All cultures have myths, stories and legends they tell especially around holidays. Santa Claus (Father Christmas, Père Noël, St. Nicholas) is one of the most universal of those tales with Christians and many non-Christians now secularly celebrating Christmas world-wide. But what exactly do you tell you tell your kids about the jolly old sole who lives on the North Pole?
My Son was nearly 5 months old when he celebrated his first Christmas. His older nieces and nephews had recently been introduced to Elf on the Shelf. “It’s the greatest thing, “ my sister said casually, “They’ve been soooo good because they think Elmo (their elf) is always watching. I never want him to go!”
With one infant, who couldn’t really misbehave yet, I was horrified. I had idealistic plans to not perpetuate the myth of Santa let alone get involved in some elaborate story of creepy helper elves sent to spy for the big guy.
A year later, we moved to China. I could skirt the Santa issue by default — except for the fact that Christmas has become a worldwide commercial phenomenon. Massive Christmas displays decked the halls of the shiny, glittery malls of Shanghai. Santa’s sweet smile greeted us with good tidings every time we stepped in the lift to get home.
I leapt headfirst down the chimney and into the wonder of Christmas myths.
Now that we are in Singapore and my kids are school aged, I wonder what stories my kids might hear at school about Santa or (gasp!) if they’d hear he’s not real! What do other cultures teach about Santa?
“I have fond memories of stories my parents would tell about Christmas so I have kept up our traditions. We tell the kids all the typical Santa stories,” says American Linda Thompson. “I’m not too worried what other kids will tell them because it will only reinforce the lessons I’m trying to teach about belief and faith.” Her kids are now 6 and 8 and still believe in Santa.
Ginny Png’s son Benji is now 2.5 years old and she and her husband are trying to decide how to handle the Santa Claus legend. While they are both Australian, she and her husband (of Asian descent) had very different experiences as children. “We find ourselves in this mixed cultural context which leaves us scratching our heads a bit. We don’t feel super comfortable introducing the myth to Benji.” She hopes to introduce Santa as a character similar to a superhero. “When we play superheroes, he knows that we are not actually superheroes, but we assume the character and have lots of fun with it.”
Originally from China, Ying Lee, who has lived in Singapore for the past 15 years, says she and her husband never explicitly discussed whether or not Santa was real with her son (now 18). “He never really asked and we didn’t really say,” she says with a laugh. “We also didn’t get into too many details other than he helps kids celebrate Christmas and generously gives presents.” She said her family has always enjoyed the spirit of Christmas but they didn’t tell too many stories about Santa. “Most of what my son learned about Santa was from cartoons.”
Whether your view it as lying, a harmless story or an interesting myth, how you choose to explain Santa Claus is a personal decision. I find that there are enough inconsistencies in his story (who are the Santas at the mall? How does he get into homes with a chimney? How will he know where to find me if I’m traveling during Christmas?) — that I can pick and choose what to highlight. I skip the naughty and nice part because I want my kids to be good for goodness sake. I’ll grant them the sleigh and the elves making toys and the snacks for the reindeer but I draw the line at the Elf on the Shelf.
What do you tell your kids about Santa? Head over to our Facebook page and let us know!
By Kathleen Siddell, November 2015