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I Hated Santa Claus
Well, ... Not really...
I don't think I ever really hated Santa Claus, but I do remember the injustice of it all. When you are a child, you really believe that the world will be just and fair in the end, that something or someone will recognize your plight and help make it better in some way.
If your parents can't give you what you want because they can't afford it, and God won't give it to you because he has a plan and he may be 'testing' you, surely, SANTA has no reason to withhold his treasures. All you have to do is be 'good', and Santa will reward you.
Except, it didn't work out that way. Not for the poor kids, anyway.
Christmas could be a time of great joy and love with family and fun. However, for young children who don't yet understand, Christmas can be a disheartening event where even Santa seems to confirm that they are not worthy of the comforts or luxuries around them.
Christmas morning was always cold. Very cold. Excited at the prospect of getting up and finding wrapped presents under the tree, we would grab our sleeping bags or covers and make the chilly trek down the stairs. The small house was heated by a coal (yes, coal) furnace in the basement. The furnace was woefully inefficient and made less effective by the rusted and worn pipes. Until a grown-up got up and started the fire, there was no heat at all. In Western Pennsylvania in December, this was saying a lot.
The windows in the mining-era house had never been replaced and were quite ineffective in separating inside from outside- at least it felt that way to me. In addition to the always-present draft, there were actual cracks and holes in some windows allowing the cold air to rush in around the inadequate patch job.
Shivering and often with actual teeth chattering, the kids would huddle on the living room floor. Soon, there would be heat and hot chocolate, though, so it would be better in just a little while.
Each child got a few wrapped packages. This almost never consisted of things we really wanted. There were exceptions, but not usually. Somehow, we knew not to even ask for big things, definitely not THE gift of the year or anything trendy- both were too much to ask. Somehow, we understood that even though Santa rewarded 'good' children, we would not get what we wanted unless we only wanted small presents. So, without really realizing it, we adjusted our 'wants' to match our 'gets'. Otherwise, we would have to try to reconcile what we wanted with why we didn't get it.
...to Grandmother's House We Go...
So, we each got some small gifts, opened with all the excitement of the most extravagant present. We drank our hot chocolate and played with the new little toys. Then, for the important- and our most favorite part- we got dressed and ready to go to Grandma's house. Her house was always warm and cozy. There was wine for the grown ups and candy for the kids. Laughter filled the walls and everyone ate until they couldn't eat another bite.
We got more presents from the relatives and were as happy as could be. So far, Christmas was wonderful- full of family and fun and laughter. This is what we were told it should be about, what was really important about the season.
When the Truth Hurts
It really would only hit when the Christmas break was over and you went back to school. When your peers were discussing their very cool gifts- the latest designer jeans, the doll or album that everyone wanted, the hard-to-get must have items- you realized (again) that materially, people were a lot better off than you were. You learned from a young age to console yourself with the knowledge (which you had better believe to preserve your happiness) that material things don't matter most.
The problem was that to a young child, there was no good reason for this. Santa should be the great equalizer. You behaved well causing your parents no real problems. You did well in school without getting into fights or trouble and teachers generally were glad to have you in their class. All of this should point to a BIG reward from Santa. But, it didn't.
The little snob with all the advantages in life STILL got the best presents. How could Santa do that? Didn't he know what a little selfish, mean brat she was? Shouldn't she have gotten next-to-nothing? Should I have been rewarded with the finer goodies?
I would bet that most poor kids stop believing in Santa well before their more advantaged counterparts. It only makes sense that it would happen that way. All kids believe they will have their wishes granted on Christmas. Those who do have no reason to question. Those who can't quite figure out why Santa hates them figure it out. There is only one reason that the bounty of Christmas is correlated to their general income level.
Santa Hates Poor Kids...or a 'Santa Tax'
Of course, all children have the general belief that Santa is a kind, loving soul. So, another explanation was necessary to reconcile the discord. I don't remember how (made it up or someone hinted at it) I came to believe it, but I had the general idea that parents had to pay into a 'fund' for Santa- like a tax, although I didn't really have that concept down at the time. I think I created that in my head to explain in the only way that made sense why rich kids got more and 'better' stuff.
So, I never hated Santa or resented him. And, I never really believed Santa hated anyone.
And overall, this uneasiness with Christmas only lasted for a couple days out of a couple years- those years where you are aware of the comparisons between you and your peers AND you believe in Santa. So, it wasn't a huge deal. But, I do remember some confusion and the occasional feeling of 'unfairness'.
What I Do about It Now.
Now, I am grown. I am very, very fortunate that my financial woes are far behind me and I have children of my own who will not know how it feels to be 'the poor kid'.
To be honest, this Santa-poor-kid-rich-kid discrepancy bothers me WAY more now than it ever did as a child. It breaks my heart to think of children still wondering why Santa has forsaken them, trying to understand what they did wrong.
So, every year at Christmas I talk to my children. I tell them that there is a special fund that parents pay into for Santa. Kids who are LUCKY have parents who can pay more and therefore, can get better gifts. But, more importantly, I don't buy my kids their biggest, most desired gifts of the year at Christmas. They get those for their birthdays or other events. We aren't perfect, but are doing our best.
At Christmas, we try (TRY) to keep it to more simple gifts. Of course, this is easier said than done, thus the explanation above about the 'Santa tax'. I'll be damned if my children go to school and make others feel badly, whether on purpose or inadvertently. I will try to avoid that as best I can. Of course, they have never been in the deprived position, so they can only understand to a certain degree at their young ages. We are fostering that awareness, slowly but surely.
Also, we try to find opportunities to help. I tell my kids that they need to limit their gift selection to X, Y or Z by either quantity or dollar amounts. I say that way, Santa can use some of our 'fee' to give gifts to kids that may not get them otherwise.
We also try to sponsor a family for Christmas. Several charities in the area will provide you with the 'wish list' of families in need. This way, you get to actually BE Santa for someone. This is my favorite way to help. I have never gotten feedback or direct thanks for the gifts I have sent (and some have been quite generous, if I do say so), but I don't need to-that's not what it's about. I KNOW how those kids feel when they get the thing they really wanted and never thought they would get. Knowing that you can give that feeling to someone is priceless and puts a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye even as I write about it here.
Note to the Reader:
Christmas was still an overall joyful time of year. My family made sure we had special memories with family and I still treasure those memories above all. We did not dwell on what we did not have and I don't mean to imply that it was gloomy or sad. But, when you are poor, you can't help but become aware of the differences and it could occasionally be disheartening. I see the potential for children to feel inferior if it seemed that even Santa didn't reward them and their self-esteem is not reinforced in other ways. My point here is to remind parents of all economic levels to be aware of the messages we send our children and our children's peers at this time of year and always about their worth.
My kids will not think that the extravagance of Christmas presents- theirs or other childrens'- has anything to do with their value as humans.
What Can You Do?
Christmas is generally full of warm fuzzies and there is nothing wrong with that. But, I think making our children aware of the discrepancies and being sensitive to what they might be thinking- no matter where you fall on the spectrum- is so very important at this time of year.
Let's let them know that what Santa brings isn't really a measure of their worth. And, this is just as important for those "with" as those "without".
I actually despise the idea that children are taught that they get lots of presents if they are "good", because let's face it- that just isn't true. There are plenty of good people who get next to nothing. And there are some little shits who seem to have it all, and then get more at Christmas.
Let's all raise our children to be aware of the differences and understand that it isn't their fault. Teach them to treat others with compassion and to be grateful for what they have- whatever that is. Despite the lack of material goods, we had great food and lots of laughter with extended family at Christmas. Those were the moments that made Christmas special and the memories I treasure above all others now. The toys, even if they had been stacked to the ceiling would be long gone, but those moments- those one of a kind, special, treasured memories-- they are still there. They can't be erased or replaced. Make those memories.
Do what you can to help others. It sounds so cliche and indeed, I see some people doing it just to check it as another item off of their list. But, instead, spend a moment thinking about what it would really be like to walk a mile in their shoes. And then act to improve it, if even just for a few minutes or hours or days. Do something and let your kids help and understand why.
Explain it to your children any way you want. But, we all need to be careful about the message we send when equating moral and material wealth. And, that's not just a lesson for Christmas-time, is it?