It's 2:42 a.m. on Christmas morning and I finally feel I am done playing Santa. My husband stuck a few items he had bought for the children into their stockings, showed me his surprise present for me (a hardcover Madeline and the Cats of Rome, which recalled my own trip) then lay down and fell asleep peacefully two hours ago. I, on the other hand, slipped out of our bedroom, and stealthily closed the door, which had to be left ever so slightly ajar so I could hear the baby if he cried, with a diaper bag and stool strategically blocking the way to serve as obstacles to my older child should she wake. I then went to my stash in a high cabinet and brought them to the stockings hanging on the bannister with care.
I discovered that my husband, finding he couldn't rehang my son's stocking had simply left it on a step. This alarmed my sense of aesthetics. After filling the boy's stocking, I tried unsuccessfully knotting together the threads that were supposed to hold it in place but couldn't make the loop big enough for it to hang on a curlicue on the railing. So I filled my daughter's and husband's stockings and added a cute little calendar to mine, then I hit upon the solution of adding a loop of ribbon to the stocking, so I fished a scrap of ribbon from my gift-wrapping drawer, used the loose threads to tie it to the stocking, and hung it up.
Sounds like I was finished, but my perfectionist soul would not let me rest. You have to understand how carefully I considered the concept of Santa we were presenting to my daughter. The Santa who gave nice presents to those who were good. We would never go so far as to say he would give anything a good chiild asked for. We had seen too many movies where this became a parental pitfall when the child asked for something impossible. Besides it didn't fit in with our values; we believe that one should not make demands but be grateful for anything one is given.
Although we never directly said so, this Santa was presented in the books and videos we shared with her as preparing the presents in a workshop with the help of elves. My daughter is quite perceptive and can read, so I had made sure to peel off every single label on the gifts, any indicator that it had been bought at Toy Kingdom or Shoppersville. I also removed them from their plastic bags, deciding that didn't go with the traditional image of Santa at all.
I considered the stockings, and decided mine seemed too empty next to my children's bulging ones and might suggest I had been bad. I went quickly through my dresser and found an unworn bracelet, which I didn't even remember seeing before. Maybe Santa was really at work, though more likely it was my mother-in-law, who is so fond of showering us with little presents that when my mother started telling my daughter the story of how she would find lots of presents from Santa on Christmas morning, the little one interrupted with her own story of how Grandma would fill her Marie Aristocat bag with gifts in the night.
I also went to the closet where I keep supplies and chose a nice pen, then my eye fell on a box of handkerchiefs. I chose one for myself and one for my husband. After putting them in the stockings, I remembered that I had put a Winnie-the-Pooh handkerchief in my daughter's stocking, and worried that she might fuss about why her brother didn't have one. This is not an absurd worry; that is really the way my daughter thinks. There was still one adult hanky, but then she would wonder why hers was so different and it didn't seem an appropriate gift for a baby, in any case. I then remembered I had bought him a washcloth before he was born which we hadn't used as we didn't want the design faded--it was a very pale pastel Big Bird design-- and we had enough washcloths for him anyway. I dug it out. Saved!
But before adding it, I decided to rearrange the contents to achieve the best reaction when the children emptied them. I decided the biggest presents should be at the bottom and the little ones on top. This does not make much practical sense especially since the big stocking gifts were plush animal hats which had to be folded and squeezed into the foot, but I felt it would be worth it for the dramatic effect.
As for gifts under the tree, I arranged my bags full of presents for the children, pleasantly surprised to find that despite extreme care in spending in the past year, we still had a good array. None of them were especially expensive gifts, but they were just right for our children. They were gifts that suited their interests: dinosaur books and a stuffed toy plus a princess magnet set for my daughter, a toy computer, a muscial penguin, and pop beads for my son.
The year before we had splurged, as most do, buying a bicycle for my daughter. We had not spent nearly as much this year. I constantly reminded myself as I shopped around for bargains and thought twice about each expenditure that expense was not an indicator of love. I hope my daughter realizes the effort that went in choosing presents that were right for her. That the presents from her parents transmit not only our love but our values: love of reading (there are two books), nationalism (one book is a local publication), egalitarianism (through our support of her interest in both princesses and dinosaurs and in no way suggesting the latter is supposed to be a "boy" thing).
Santa's presents, though, are not intended in this manner. These are the fun, frivolous items we indulged in. It's not like either of our kids needs an animal hat. My daughter certainly doesn't need a nice new markers when she still has a lot of grubby old ones. Nor does she need a pair of socks that look like ballet slippers, or the berry push pop that I mysteriously found among my groceries once. They do not fit in with the values of indulging in worthwhile pastimes, avoiding excess and eschewing junk food that we preach. That is why Mommy and Daddy are not giving them to her, Santa is.
I suspect that Santa was invented so parents could express their love in these two contrasting ways. Parents teach you good values, Santa indulges your dreams, your frivolous longings. We all need both kinds of love to fulfill our need to be accepted fully as we are, every last little aspect of ourselves, however silly. It is because I feel the power and the magic of Santa's role when it is played out properly that I endeavor to nurture my daughter's belief in Santa Clause, though I myself stopped believing in him by her age.
I hope that this holiday season you receive gifts from Santa as well as your family, even if you have to play Santa to yourself a bit. Merry Christmas.