Thursday, December 1, 2016

Santa Claus is coming to town (or is he?) - A ReadItTorial

For our final Read-it-Torial of the year (and the first of December, which is when the Christmas floodgates truly open) I thought I'd go for a thorny subject that's cropped up this year. In fact it seems to be EVERYWHERE at the moment - which is weird because I'd actually started this editorial way back at the start of November but must've had a rare moment of seasonal insight into what would be all over the internet around this time of year. Amazing!…/parents-urged-stop-pretending…/

Yes yes, I know that there are regular blog readers who are inwardly groaning at the prospect of a christmas-related ReadItTorial ahead of a whole month of Booky Advent Calendar joy (it will be a joy, honestly) but bear with. I'm pretty sure my wife and I aren't the only parents who face this particular sticky wicket this year.

Oh - Spoiler Warning! 

It might be time to shoo your little ones out of the room - just in case they spot the theme of this editorial - I really don't want to end up compared to the fellah in our header image after all!

So, Santa. He doesn't exist. But for an increasingly fleeting period of time, parents get to truly enjoy this time of year and the thought that their kids have a complete unshakeable belief in a supernatural being who somehow manages to organise himself to distribute presents around the globe all in the space of one night.

When Charlotte was younger it was so easy to maintain the illusion that the strange beardy fellah was as real as you or I. We met excellent Santas who really got into their roles, actually believing they were Saint Nick and managing to wholly convince Charlotte that they were too. Christmas Eve we'd usually watch the NORAD Santa Tracker avidly, watching Santa's progress across the globe as he whistled down the chimneys around the world, faster than the speed of light.

She's a smart cookie though, and nearly every single year for the last three or four she's applied her razor-sharp logic to the logistics involved and we have put on our best poker faces as parents to try and dismiss any of her doubts. Last year was the toughest of all when she played us like a poker shark.

"If Santa doesn't exist" she said quite straightfacedly, "I do need to know because one day I will grow up and have kids of my own and I will need to be able to tell them the truth"

It actually came up again even as recent as last night when Charlotte came up with the idea of "setting up a video camera in the living room so we can see if Santa really does eat the mince pie and feed the carrot to Rudolph".

Ow. Really, ow. I mean in both cases that was the parental equivalent of having a pair of clothes pegs applied to your nipples - that got us RIGHT in the feels but amazingly, once again, my wife and I managed to head those off with some wishy washy half-answer that sort of covered our backs a little bit. But only a little. Smart cookie is smart.

This year it's going to be even tougher. Kids at school who've long since grown out of the whole Santa thing will pour scorn on her rather cute belief that he exists. As we struggle to find presents for her that fit into the middle grade age and aren't boring practical stuff like clothes or shoes (which she always seems to need) and are still fun but not childishly fun, it regularly hits us both that she's growing up - and sadly some of that glorious magic associated with maintaining the illusion of Santa being a real person will slowly disappear. Once again I'm reminded of Chris Van Allsburg's utterly brilliant "The Polar Express" which, to date, is the best children's picture book dealing with the thorny subject of believing in Santa (and it's always one we read at this time of year without fail).

I did a quick straw poll at work to see when colleagues fessed up to the whole santa thing. We've obviously left it a lot later than most folk as most seemed to say that they didn't bother maintaining the pretence past their children's 5th birthdays. One even told their kid at the age of 3 with the justification that they would rather their child knew rather than be lied to during their formative years (I just couldn't agree with that at all but I'm pretty sure there are a lot of parents now who've opted to go down that route). I've also seen messages from other parents who claim that the 'lie' damaged them so irreparably, that they started off right at the very start without Santa - which must've been a fun logistical exercise whenever friends or family with kids came around and asked what their cousins or friends were getting from Santa. Still, each to their own I guess.

The moral ins and outs of lying to your kids (can you, as a parent, really truthfully stand there and tell me that you've never even told a single little white lie to your kids at one time or another - if for no other reason, surely one or two to spare their feelings in a situation where things are entirely out of your control, and you have a straight choice between 'damaging your kid' by letting them hear the truth or glossing over things with a fairly low-impact fib? Tough choice, kiddo.

There's also another aspect to all this - if you are vehemently determined to take Santa away from your kids, does this mean you also want to do away with all the other fantasy characters they could grow up with? Bye bye to the Easter Bunny? Kick the Tooth Fairy to the kerb? Are you also going to take away every other element of fantasy or mythology from your children - preferring that they deal only in cold hard scientific fact?

I feel sorry for your children if so. Genuinely sorry. I really can't imagine what childhood would be like if all you had to look forward to was non-fiction (as much as we love non-fiction stuff on the blog there's absolutely no WAY we'd relegate ourselves to only reading non fic - not when there are so many amazing stories to be read and enjoyed!)

I'm sure your little one would grow up to be an academic genius, a high wage earner, perhaps the next nobel prize winner, but at what cost? If we can't indulge in fantasy and magic as children, there will never be another (better) time to get any of that back.

Back on topic and rants aside, assuming 'it' happens this year, or next, or maybe the one after that, it really is going to be a strange Christmas without Santa.

We're entirely playing it by ear this year and we'll see what happens. I mean it's not like kids don't need a little magic and fantasy in their lives, and the loss of a belief in something that - on the surface of it - is a bit ridiculous and crazy but underpins the whole of Christmas for us (we're not religious you see, definitely don't get me started on Santa Vs Jesus!)

I think it's a pretty horrible enough world without kids having that beautifully innocent belief that there is still a little magic in the world, and stuff that can't just be explained away by cold hard science or psychology. I for one will miss the beardy old gent when he's 'gone'.

OK the little ones can come back into the room now. An early Merry Christmas from us, I really hope you enjoy our yuletide book suggestions this year and that your stocking (whoever delivers it) is full of lovely lovely books!