Preparing to Unfold the Myth
Planning for the inevitable is also a good idea. The goal, says Dr. Gleason, "Is to eventually transfer their enjoyment of Santa to a broader enjoyment of Christmas as a whole. Shift the emphasis to being with family or something that you feel is important about the holiday." So far, I've been using Santa mostly as "the enforcer" for things like manners and being helpful around the house. It works very well. But the day itself carries with it some big lessons. Sure Santa's image is tainted with massive commercialism, but the concept of a superhero (Santa) whose special gift is extreme generosity is pretty powerful. And while I can't control the images that my kids see with regard to Santa, I can control the message—to a certain extent—that those images convey.
Santa is a happy and magical guy. Presumably the thing that makes him so is that he gives generously, even to people he doesn't know. Surely I can use that as a teaching moment. In fact, I guess I already do. I help my kids buy presents for everyone on their list each year. Last year, my six-year-old son bought me a sweater that I love. He's long forgotten what he got for Christmas, but every time I wear that sweater he feels proud that he made me happy.
A Big Kid Transition
Essentially, I'm realizing, this is mostly a matter of spin. And that is no doubt true of the eventual moment when my kids will no longer believe in Santa. Instead of looking upon it as the moment when the bubble bursts, I could instead view it as a transition. "It is a right of passage," agrees Dr. Gleason. "Maybe not in the same sense as puberty but it's a small step toward adulthood."
My children are too small yet for me to worry about making the transition to adulthood, but I can make sure that I have something to replace Santa with when he goes. Or at least that my children will enjoy the other end of the myth—perpetuating it—as much as they enjoyed believing in it. I certainly do.
I hate to admit this, but maybe my mother knew what she was doing. I have fond memories of my rite of passage from Santa believer to Santa imitator. And it was all just a matter of the spin she put on it. As I look back on it, I realize that I gave up a myth but I gained a secret—a secret that separates the big kids from the little ones.