Monday, January 30, 2012

A different kind of Christmas story

OK I wrote  this two months ago, but had to wait on posting it (I had submitted it for a contest).
I know it is not so timely, but I think it is still a great thought provoker. 


A few weeks ago my son said to me “You know what Mommy; I have decided Santa Claus is a real person and elves are real also.”  This brief statement by my five year old made my heart skip a beat.  I was speechless.  Though this proclamation was a shock to me, it did put one of my great parenting fears to rest.  The fear that my son would be the one to out Santa to his peers.  As a result our family would forever be labeled “the ones who ruined Christmas.”

I am a Jewish mother raising a family in a not so Jewish part of the world.  I have explained (to my son) our religious beliefs and those of others to the best of my ability.  I have made a point to expose my son to a variety of beliefs and customs.   I have emphasized the importance of respect for others and their beliefs.  I have also stressed the importance of values such as honesty. I expect my son to be honest with me and in return I plan to be honest with him.  When he asks a question I give him an honest answer (at his comprehension level) regardless of the topic.

A few weeks before my son made his proclamation, we had a conversation about factual and make-believe stories.   This conversation was in support of the real verses imaginary dialogue happening at school.  Santa Claus was one of the examples that came up.  We agreed that this was a topic for his friends to talk about with their own parents. That even though we do not believe in Santa or celebrate Christmas, it is something many of his friends do and he is not to tell them they are wrong.  We decided his friends should be allowed to believe in Santa Claus as long as their parents feel it is appropriate.

I thought I was being proactive, but I now have a parenting dilemma I do not know how to deal with.  No, it is not how to avoid disappointment when no gifts appear on the 25th.  My son tells me he understands we are Jewish and do not celebrate Christmas, but I know he secretly hopes some extra gifts from an anonymous source will appear.  The dilemma is much greater; it is a question of fostering trust.  My son’s new found belief in the jolly fellow is a result of a class project and discussion.  My son trusts his teachers, who inadvertently, while trying to play along with the family rituals and traditions observed by the majority of his class convinced my son that Santa and his elves really do exist.  I have spoken with my son’s teacher about this and I know she was not intentionally trying to convince the Jewish kid there is a Santa Clause, but kids are impressionable.  In the mind of a five year old, if your teachers tell you they believe in something then it must be true.  

I think it is important that he has a trusting rapport with his teachers. As a parent I am now faced with a difficult decision.  Do I try to set my son straight? If I try to convince him there is no such thing as Santa I may degrade his respect and trust for his teachers.  As I stated earlier, I think it is important that my son trust and respect his teachers.  I have decided not to argue the point about the existence of Santa Claus with my son.  He will have to come to this conclusion in his own time. Instead I plan to prepare my son for the big letdown. I will try to be sensitive to the trust issues that may have developed.  Jolly Old St Nick will not visit our house this holiday season.  I hope my son will understand that our family traditions are just as wonderful as those of his friends.  I also hope that he will continue to look-up-to and trust his teachers.  Maybe this will even be an opportunity for him to learn that he can question authority and he does not need to believe everything he hears.

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