Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Santa Claus isn't Coming to Town

Flash back to five years ago. It was around this time of year and I was busily preparing my little family for our first Christmas holiday together. As a child Christmas was a big deal. It was a week-long affair that consisted of traveling to and from houses of family members. Attending huge parties where Santa would show up and getting hefty amounts of gifts. Christmas was by far the most wonderful time of the year growing up. My brother and I would start our Christmas lists right after Halloween in anticipation of all that was to come. My mother would go to elaborate lengths to leave traces of Santa in our house. I remember one Christmas morning waking up to snowy boot prints leading up to our fireplace. Santa, his reindeer, the North Pole, was always a sure thing in my mind.

As you grow up, especially as a woman, you want to share some of these holiday traditions with your children. So my first Christmas as a mom, I was more than ready to carry on the same traditions with my little one. We were in an apartment that first year and I got the biggest Christmas tree that I could find. It took up a good half of our living room. I got my daughter a new ornament, like I used to get every year, and then hung it next to all of my childhood ornaments. I put up stockings and a nativity set and I set out plaster casts of snowmen, Santa and his reindeer's, you name it, it was in my house that year.

While I was busy creating my Christmas master piece, my husband was very non-participatory. I would try to include him in the festivities but he continually pushed back. He would comment about how he didn't see the point in all of this and how as a kid he didn't have all of this hub bub surrounding the Christmas holiday and how he turned out just fine. I chalked it up to the fact that he just hadn't had a grand enough Christmas experience yet, and that if I kept pushing eventually he would catch the Christmas fever.

I will never forget wrapping presents with my husband that Christmas eve for my daughter. I had little Christmas themed tags out and ready to go. I was wrapping various presents for family as he labeled the tags and stuck them on to the presents. When it came time to label our daughters presents, I reminded him which ones were from Santa. His reply was, “I’m not participating in this whole Santa crap, if you want to lie to her and tell her these are from Santa, I’m not stopping you but I’m not going along with this.” I think my heart stopped beating for a moment. “You don’t want our daughter to believe in Santa?” “That’s horrible, why would you do that to her?” I asked wearily. “Because I don’t see the point and to me it’s just a lie. Then at some point you have to explain that you were lying to your kid the whole time about Santa. All the while we are trying to teach her that lying isn't acceptable? It just doesn't make sense to me but you can go ahead with it if it means that much to you.”

He was very matter of fact about his proclamation and I didn't feel a huge need to argue so I decided that I wouldn't let him be the Grinch who stole our daughters’ Christmas and forged ahead with the Santa gifts. It might be a good time to mention that my husband was raised in Kenya and Christmas is celebrated much differently there. I came to the resolve that he just hadn't been shown the American Christmas spirit yet and eventually he would catch on. So for the next two Christmas’s I did it all by myself. He wasn't horrible about it, he helped where needed, and did Christmas shopping with me, he was in good spirits yet he still didn't latch on the idea of Santa like I wished he would.

Fast forward three years, our daughter is now almost four and we have a son who is 18 months old. It is
Christmas time again and I am madly decorating and getting everything ready for the impending 25th of December. I had decided to do some early online Christmas shopping that year and was asking my husband’s opinion about some items that I had found for our kids. He liked them but commented, “If we are getting that for them, I want it to be from us, not Santa.” The conversation that followed would change the way that I forever looked at and celebrated Christmas with my children. I pressed the Santa issue a bit more and asked why he hated Santa so much, I remember saying, “what did Santa ever do to you?” His response was eye opening.

He said, “Santa has done nothing for me, and honestly I have a really hard time letting a big bearded White guy get all of the credit for my hard work. I go to work every day to make sure our kids have what they need, and we are the ones putting in a lot of effort to make sure they have a good holiday, and the jolly White guy get’s all the credit?”

In that moment I realized that this was so much more than continentally different upbringings, or negative Christmas experiences or lying to our children about the realness of Santa. It was about the fact that Santa, in all his good intentions, is not racially representative. You might think why does it matter? And I ask, when is the last time that you saw a Black Santa sitting in the mall listening to children’s toy requests or when have you seen a Black Santa in any commercial advertisements. I’m sure that they are there but it is certainly not the norm.

Some might say, “Oh race shouldn't be an issue here, it’s about the spirit of Santa!” and I would argue that it is easy to say that when you’re the dominant race. I never had to evaluate these situations until I had kids of my own and not until I had biracial kids of my own. When you are the dominant race it is very easy to overlook these scenarios and say that we should be over talking about race by now. I would argue that if you were to take a closer look, you would see what I do, and what my husband and kids do. When you are in the dominant race you don’t notice that one the most beloved holiday figures of the year, Santa, doesn't look like you. You don’t notice that a very low percentage of people on billboards, commercials, and T.V. don’t look like you. You don’t notice that the people you learn about in school don’t look like you. You don’t notice that you have to go to a special store just to get products for your hair. You don’t notice that band-aids aren't the color of your skin. You don’t notice that you have to ask your teacher for brown paint so that you can paint an adequate self portrait of yourself. You don’t have to think about these things because you've never had to, because society is set up to recognize you as important. This becomes problematic for young children when it comes to shaping their opinions about themselves. Kids observe these inadequacies and then begin to note that if most everything is set up for another race, and then there must be something wrong with their race. There are many people in this world who have to be aware of these quandaries on a daily basis. They see it everywhere and it has unfortunately become normal. Has it gotten better? Yes, it has gotten better but is it equal? It sure doesn't feel that way sometimes. 

That was the year we stopped "believing" in Santa. It was that year I decided in the bigger scheme of life, my husband was right. His concern with his hard earned money being put into presents and then a bearded White guy getting credit were precise. It wasn't worth it to me to push this idea on my children and husband when it had absolutely no benefit to them. It wasn't worth it to me to keep up the facade because of my own conceit. It isn't easy being a White mother to bi-racial kids. It takes a lot of adapting, learning and adjusting to what you are doing. It takes accepting that sometimes the way that you were raised isn't going to work for them. And in the end it is more important to me that my children have a more well rounded view of the world and its holiday celebrations than to stick to a proprietary belief because it’s “normal” or it’s what everyone else around me is doing. The weight of this issue’s repercussions far exceeded the benefit of letting my kids believe in jolly St. Nick and his one horse open sleigh. Breaking the news was easy. My daughter, a bit of a pragmatist even at four years old, proclaimed, “I knew it!” As for my son, he was 18 months so he’s grown up without having to worry about being naughty or nice because in this family Santa Clause isn't coming to town.  


  1. What a great post, Rachael! Santa comes to our house, but I totally understand the point about how this can be a race issue and can relate to all of the things you mention we have to consider as parents to children of color! You also highlight that in marriage sometimes our different backgrounds and upbringings are going to result in a difference of expectations or desires, and we've got to find a way to work that out that respects our differences. I love that you listened to your husband's feelings, as strongly as you felt, and came to a solution that works for your family. :)

  2. @Ellie it's reassuring that someone else out there appreciated the post! In life and especially in marriage it is hard to swallow your pride but for this issue it just had to be done. It's all worked out in the long run and my families shock wore off after the first few years :)

  3. This really got my wheels turning on the validity of keeping Santa around. Thanks for this!

  4. @Claire I'm glad I got you thinking!