An Australian author living in Norway

The Santa Claus Conundrum

Every Christmas, the internet is inundated with advice, complaints, pleas and general grumbling about Santa and the “lie” so many of us tell our children about him.

I have had a particularly challenging time explaining how the whole thing works to my inquisitive and wildly creative now-nine-year-old daughter. We live in Norway where Julenissen (the Christmas gnome for want of a better translation) traditionally knocks on the door at the end of Christmas Eve dinner and delivers gifts. While my daughter celebrates Norwegian Christmas on Christmas Eve with her dad, she’s usually the only younger kid that attends, and they’ve never done the Julenissen thing. She and I celebrate Christmas morning together and we’ve always gone with the idea that Santa comes overnight when you’re sleeping and fills your stocking and leaves some presents behind.

So, despite what her friends do or believe, she’s grown up with the Australian/British/American notion of Santa, and up until last year she was convinced she’d met the “real” Santa in Australia at a department store. I was intensely relieved she never thought to test the theory that he would understand her if she spoke to him in Norwegian.

As she’s growing, I’ve often wondered how I would handle the moment of truth when it comes. She has never directly asked me if he’s real, but the general subject has come up in conversation and I’ve always gone with the idea that “he’s real as long as you need to believe in him”. I don’t try to make that a threat, though; it’s not like she won’t get any gifts if she stops believing. It’s more to let her know that he’s there as long as she needs him and wants him, and giving her the option to grow out of the whole thing if and when she wants to.

Lately, I’ve got the distinct feeling she’s figured it out. We already talk about how the department store Santas are most likely “helpers” because he couldn’t, magic or not, be in all those places at once. And last time we visited Australia, there were Santas EVERYWHERE (poor bastards in 35-40C heat in those thick suits with kids crawling all over them; Saint Nicholas indeed).

This figuring out of hers comes alongside still insisting on putting out snacks on Christmas Eve, still being absolutely enchanted by her yearly “Portable North Pole” video call, and letting me know with one strongly raised eyebrow how she wonders whether this year he’ll leave boot prints on the floor again like that one time about six years ago she has never forgotten. In other words, she still really wants to believe.

That brings me to my point. The “lie” of Santa doesn’t have to be a lie. It’s a fantasy that you bring to your child or children when they’re still figuring out what’s real and what’s not. Once they understand that it’s a fantasy, they get to be in on it with you, and you play your roles in it with delight and whimsy.

Maybe I can be this Pollyanna-ish about it because I don’t have a traumatic “finding out” story in my past. I came to the conclusion Santa as a person wasn’t real pretty much on my own and I have no memory of a precise moment. But I did have a Santa-related painful moment when I was about seven or eight years old. My mum had bought herself some beautiful leather-bound fairy tale books for Christmas and I remember her showing them to my aunt with pride. I piped up that Father Christmas had brought them, not liking the idea of my (at the time single) mum having to buy presents for herself.

She, on the other hand, was in no mood to attribute her lovely spoils to some non-existent man. She got divorced around that time and was probably damn proud of being able to buy herself nice things. And as a single mum myself now, I totally get that. I bought myself a 1920s diamond ring last Christmas for the exact same reason and no man had anything to do with that.

But back then, Mum and I got into an argument about it – me increasingly plaintively insisting her books were from the jolly old elf, her getting more and more annoyed until she finally shouted, “There’s no such thing as Father Christmas!”

I don’t remember how I reacted in the moment. I probably ran to my room and cried. Not because it was a shock to hear—I don’t believe for a second she thought I still really believed in him. But because I believed she didn’t want to share the fantasy anymore.

That year, back at my dad’s place, I wrote a letter to Santa on my blackboard before I went to sleep one night:

“Dear Father Christmas,

I don’t believe in you anymore

Love, Zoë

When I woke up in the morning, my message was gone. In its place was this message:

Dear Zoë,

That’s all right. I still believe in you.

Love, FC

Are you crying yet? No, neither am I…

Anyway, what I’d like to say is that you shouldn’t worry about lying to your children, or deceiving them. Let the fantasy grow with them, and make it about both (or all) of you. That’s all they really want for Christmas.

P.S. I promise I’m not throwing you under the bus with this post, Mum. I love you, I get it, and I’m not traumatised. You taught me how to be a strong single mum even though neither of us knew it was in my future. Also, you will never know how much it meant to me that you passed those beautiful books on to me. I love them more than any of my other paper babies.

P.P.S. Thanks, Dad, for letting me drag it out a bit longer.

1 Comment

  1. Kym

    When I heard the impromptu speech that she made (regarding fantasy) at your recent gathering, I understood that she completely gets the idea of how to use one’s creativity. You have taught her well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

© 2024 Zoë Writes

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑