Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Happens

This year, due to the fact that Kara and I now have a daughter capable of understanding basic concepts, we had to deal with the question of whether or not Santa exists.

Believe it or not, this is something we started struggling with before we even had a child. We'd put up the tree, and lay the gifts underneath it, and more often than not the gifts contained few surprises.

In fact, one year, we stuffed the majority of the gits into one large gift bag, and pulled them all out on the correct day.

I suppose this kills some of the "magic" of Christmas, but it worked for us. We lived in an apartment for the first six years of our marriage, and frankly, trying to buy and/or order gifts, and then find a place to hide them for days, weeks, or months was far more work than the "moment of surprise" was worth. It also led to a couple of mix-ups, like the year I got her the same book for Christmas twice.

But I was talking about Santa.

For the last three years, we've done gift-opening at our house with the small child present. The first year, she was more interested in playing with the paper. Especially the whole putting-it-in-her-mouth kind of playing.

Last year, she didn't quite get the idea of unwrapping gifts, so she opened two or three and then wandered off. A month later, on her birthday, she seemed to get it a little more, and opened all the gifts. She played with them for a few minutes, and then wandered off to do other things.

She was, after all, a new two, and they aren't exactly known for intense periods of concentration.

Since Mihret barely got the idea of presents, Kara and I opted out of emphasizing, or de-emphasizing, Santa. Not that we had a problem with the guy, but it struck us that telling our daughter a story about a guy that doesn't exist when she barely gets the idea that a book has to be read in a certain order was probably not going to accomplish much.

Then we got to this year.

It's clear, at this point, that Mihret gets the iconography aspect of Santa. She can point him out to you in a store.

Of course, she can also point out penguins and snowmen. Which don't bring gifts. Unless I missed a Christmas special, which is always possible.

And this year, like the last few years, Kara and I didn't feel compelled to buy a lot of gifts. We had a few coming from the grandparents, and frankly, she has a ho-jillion toys, and games, and various and sundry other things that she is only just starting to understand.

(Games are still something of an issue. My mother kindly gave us a memory game. It had fifty-some cards. I took Mihret to her room, where we had some floor space, and started setting up the cards. After I got about twenty cards down, she kicked them, which scattered them everywhere.

I told her that they weren't supposed to be used that way, and set up all the cards, while watching the little one closely to make sure there would be no more kicking.

Then I tried to play Memory with her. I'd pick up two cards, and say, "They don't match." and then put them down. She'd pick up four cards in a row, and then I had to put them back because she didn't get that there was a pattern.

Finally, I got a match. Then I helped her get a match. Then she picked up two random cards and tried to keep them, even though they didn't match.

I had her put the cards back. I got three matches, and she got two. Then she came over, and stole all my cards, and walked out of the room. Game over. Clearly, my little one is not Memory-ready.)

In the midst of all the gift-setting-up, Kara and I debated the idea of Santa. We read about him a bit in some books for the kiddo. We considered talking him up.

And in the end?

We just didn't bother to mention this guy this year.

Having talked to various people over the last couple of months about Santa, we just aren't sure what the point of the big red guy is.

Well, okay, we found one: You can use Santa to keep your kids in line for a month or so.

Sometimes, anyway. At least, my memory is that mom and dad would sometimes pull the "Santa is watching!" card. Which would make me behave for perhaps five minutes.

But for all that, I'm not sure that I got anything out of the Santa mythos. Today, I don't remember "who" I got most of my gifts from. Even items from my grandparents vs. my parents are a blur, much less the collective figment of everyone's imagination.

And while "losing" Santa wasn't all that traumatic for me (at least, not as I recall), I know that a lot of parents spend years trying to ascertain where their kids are on the Santa spectrum. Is it time to tell them? Do they already know?

Trying to explain where babies come from is hard enough. Why add another story that you eventually have to explain away?

Ultimately, all the gifts in our house came from a living relative, and with any luck, Mihret will remember who got her some of the gifts so she can thank them.

Eventually, of course, Mihret will go to school, and her friends will start telling her how awesome Santa is. And if we need to change our tactics, Kara and I can talk about it then.

But for now, Mihret is Santa-free, and aware as she can be that her family and friends love her very much. And that's good enough for us.


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