I have no memory of believing in Santa Claus. Apparently, there was a party and a Santa with whom I wasn’t impressed and so quickly ended that magical relationship. I don’t know that I really missed out on anything. “Santa” gave us a present each year and I still believed in the Christmas spirit.
Now, my girls believe in Santa, though not rabidly. There’s a peripheral acknowledgment that they ask him for gifts but I’m not sure they actually believe. Bea is getting older and I expect it’ll die down sooner than later, which means Elle will follow close behind.
This past weekend, we took the girls to the mountains to ride a Santa Train. We’ve done this a couple times before and it’s a great way to enjoy a Christmas market, ride a train through the snowy mountains, and include Santa in the experience without making a visit with him the main focus. This year, after waiting in line to get on the train, waiting for Santa to make his way to our car, and then waiting for Santa to slowly work his way down the aisle for each family’s photo op, Elle was done. To top it off, Santa had the audacity to give Bea a high-five but gave Elle a tickle instead. She reluctantly told him she wanted a violin and a harmonica and then wanted off the train.
It made me wonder if this is our last Santa train experience. I enjoy our family excursions but also wouldn’t be too sad about moving on. What I do want to keep is the magic of Santa. I’m not sure if I’m ready to replace this piece of cultural mythology solely with the historic Saint Nicholas, though we have already introduced him.
Last week I saw a tweet about how the Little People Nativity set is rooted in white supremacy. It’s true, when I look at ours, Jesus is depicted with blond hair and the only people of color are the wise men, who shouldn’t even be part of the scene. But I’m not quite ready to give up our inaccurate set. The girls love playing with it and I’ve loved watching the story evolve over the years as they hear it told again and again.
One day we’ll trade our set for something to get us through the next developmental stage and will maybe even buy extra figurines to round out the actual cast of characters but for now, I want my girls to interact with this story on a magical, play-based level. I think it’s important to actually play with our nativity set and these plastic figures can’t be mistaken for anything but toys.
Like Santa, I grapple with how to best present the Baby Jesus to my girls. The story is rooted in history and yet there is a lot of storytelling that has evolved and captured our collective cultural imaginations. We’ve imagined the holy family to be quite alone on this journey of new parenthood, in a stable, surrounded by Northern European farm animals. For my young kids, I’m not too worried about this mythology. The point is that a baby was born and this baby grows up to be the Messiah.
One day, I hope my kids read the nativity story critically and through a lens that is different from their own North American culture. I hope they will question the accuracy and I hope that I will be able to give them tools to research and grapple with their own spiritual journey.
For now, I want them to focus on the magic of a baby born in Bethlehem. Maybe some shepherds from a nearby field really did visit. Maybe they were surrounded by women who had given birth before, encouraging and coaching along the way. Maybe they were alone, savoring some quiet moments of becoming a family. None of those details really matters, in the end. It adds to the story and creates a scene we can imagine but I don’t think those details are the point.
As Christmas approaches, I want to remember to balance magic with history, mythology and storytelling with critical thinking. I’ll fill the stockings with chapstick and new pens and chocolates from Santa Claus and we’ll keep imagining the story of Jesus with our plastic Little People figurines. We’ll keep cementing family traditions and add new experiences. And we’ll remember that this story we are living is always a dance between fact and fiction, between proof and story.