Etiquette Questions, Answered: Holidays and Gifts
Q. My neighbor’s kid told mine there’s no Santa Claus. What should I do?
A. Don’t worry—you can still save Christmas. Every child goes through a skeptical phase. I remember a time when even I didn’t believe in Santa, as ridiculous as that sounds now. I was seven, an age when it’s natural to start wondering how a fat, bearded man with a bulging sack of toys manages to squeeze down every chimney in the world in a single night. “How do you explain that?” I asked my mother suspiciously.
Luckily, she had a good answer. She said, “I can’t. But just because I can’t explain how something works doesn’t mean it’s not real. Take TV. You don’t understand how it works, but you believe in that, don’t you?” I nodded. “How about airplanes?” she asked. “One minute they’re on the ground, the next—whoosh! You’ve ridden in one. Can you tell me about them?” No, I admitted.
“Well,” she continued, “then I don’t see how you could expect to explain how Santa does what he does. He’s magical.” Besides, the proof is in the pudding, she added. “If you believe in him, he brings you presents. If you don’t, he won’t.”
That last bit was the clincher. It persuaded me, and years later it persuaded my three daughters. They are now 22, 20, and 14, and all three tell me every year that they believe in Santa.
Of course, the big guy did hit a few rough patches with my kids. For example, I remember getting a call from another mother reporting that one of my daughters, who had just turned seven herself, was instilling doubts about Santa among the playground set. I telephoned the eminent pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton to ask his advice about what to say to her. To my surprise, his suggestion closely echoed what my mother had said in the past, with one addition. After pointing out that nonbelievers don’t receive gifts from Santa, “you should tell your child that you believe in Santa, too,” said Brazelton.
I should? “Well, don’t you? I do,” he said firmly. “We all believe in Santa on some level or other, right? If we didn’t, we would be in deep trouble.”
After you’ve talked to your child and allayed her fears (with luck, she’ll start addressing an envelope to the North Pole right away), take a minute to speak to any other parents whose children have been involved in the great Santa debate. Let them know, in a lighthearted manner, that the age of reason is threatening to catch up with your child and that you would appreciate it if they would ask their offspring to curb the “Is he real or isn’t he?” talk. Tell them that you will encourage your child not to badmouth the idea of flying reindeers, either. “I know that it’s natural—laudable, even—for our children to question something that they can’t explain,” you can say, “but in my house we’re taking a pro–Santa Claus stance. We prefer to believe in magic.”