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Santa Clause, Satan, and The Swing Set Sucker Punch

I am about to open a fat can of worms. There’s no way around it. We don’t need this to get messy. But we’re going to get real for a few minutes.

Are you one of those moms who drags her kids down to the mall for a Santa photo? Santas worry me like circus clowns worry me. At least a mime has the sense to keep his mouth shut, and they are plenty creepy.

Every kid worth his salt will take one look at Santa and see a phony. What normal adult dresses up like that and expects to be taken seriously? What crazy mom tells her kid to go sit on a total stranger’s lap and tell him secrets? Who does that?

I only attempted two Santa photos back when I was a young lemming mommy, and my rational kids were screaming bloody murder at the whole nonsense.

But I never ‘did’ Santa. I never did the Easter Bunny. I never did leprechauns. The Tooth Fairy was always a day late and a dollar short.

Don’t lie to your kids. They will tell themselves lies later all on their own (“Mom said to eat the cookies…I’m pretty sure I heard her say that.”).

So while my mommy friends were on the roof at midnight, ringing sleigh bells and leaving hoof prints, my kids knew it was all just a fun game that parents played and they got ‘Santa’ presents all the same. They swore not to tell their friends, and I got a good night’s sleep.

Lest your holiday cheer is wilting like a June snowman, you need to understand…like the infamous Grinch, I too have a tragic back story.

Remember my tiny childhood home? Next door lived a dyed-in-the-wool catholic family with three little girls. The oldest daughter was my age, 9, and got threatened regularly with Satan when she was naughty.

If Lorraine’s mama said Satan was in her bottom dresser drawer ready to snatch her, then he was.

I was being raised believing in only one God, which meant there couldn’t be one anywhere else. Satan was a figment of a grumpy and misguided imagination.

Lorraine and I were never what you would call ‘friends’. We were quite opinionated ‘frenemies’.

So I pulled that dresser to pieces looking for the guy with the pitchfork. We never did find him.

She insisted: just because we can’t find the guy doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist.

And she waited for her moment of revenge.

One Christmas morning, we woke up to sunshine and a few frugal gifts which we enjoyed. Passing a window, I noticed something; a shiny new swing set was sitting in the backyard and with whoops of delight, we raced out to play.

Lorraine and her sisters were watching through the fence.

“Look!” I cried, “Santa brought us a swing set!”

“No he didn’t,” she said smugly, “your dad built it.”

“There’s no way he could have!” I retorted. My spy system was pretty good, and there had been zero hints that this possibility was in the works.

“I sat up last night and watched him do it,” insisted Lorraine, “There is no Santa Clause.”

I stopped swinging.

My frown of anger, doubt and possible betrayal began to grow as I marched back into the house.


My mother’s guilty face, however, told me immediately that “Santa” used the same wrapping paper that she did (a detail I had been overlooking until today) and furthermore, while quite easy to locate (one on every corner in December…well, technically in November too in progressive malls) he was also a figment of a cheerful and misguided imagination.

Can you blame me if I never invited her over for a swing on the set?

Just because there is no Santa doesn’t mean his gifts disappear.

Published in"Holidays"


  1. Rebecca Moss

    We always received a present from “Santa”. But we also knew who that was – especially with Mom’s very distinctive handwriting! 0ur parents had stressed that it was important to keep the big secret known around the world.. (and that all adults knew the truth) .. that Santa Claus was Mom and Dad (for their own children). The Santa gift was our parents way of helping us negotiate the schoolyard, and inquisitive adults .. we had an honest answer when asked “What did Santa bring you?”. I didn’t appreciate that fully as a child, but with the perspective of an adult, it is incredibly wise .. because it allowed us to answer truthfully AND (more importantly) made other things we would talk about (including G-d, and His Word) acceptable. (There was a child in my class who freely dissed the jolly old elf, and everything else associated with X’mas and she was a pariah – from that point on ANYTHING she had to say was ridiculed and harassed). We fully understood how good it was to be “wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove”. It was the beginning of learning how to live in the world, but not being part of it. There is a “time to speak and a time to be silent”. You know, at the mall we’d go and sit on Santa’s lap .. it was fun to play along (and I loved the colouring books he gave out) .. and in some aspects it’s lovely that so many people try and make the world a lovely place for children for a little while. But it’s nothing as amazing as what G-d has promised. As a child hearing the teachers and other adults talking about Santa was rather amazing .. it meant that our teachers were NOT fonts of truthfulness. Which meant other things they said or taught were subject to closer inspection, not automatic consumption. It brought home another scripture “prove all things”. As parents we made the same decision. (We actually also celebrate Hanukkah because it is an actual historical event. There is plenty of fun to be had!) No negativity or judgment against folk who have Santa .. this is just how we do things.

  2. Anonymous

    Wait what!!?? Santa didn’t bring us that swing set?????? ; )

  3. Jennifer Russell

    I think we come to the whole Santa, Easter Bunny thing with just that, our memories and how it framed us. I personally can’t remember when the exact moment was
    when I discovered there was not a Santa. I do remember looking out the window at Easter to see baskets coming out, but still going along with it for my mom’s sake so she wouldn’t feel like I was a sneak or she had failed. I remember finding Christmas gifts before in my mom’s closet. I think there was a part of me coming from a divorced family (age 4) and having to adapt to stepparents and siblings and having so many Christmas’ that the whole believing in Santa seemed like that is what “normal” families did.I guess at a young age I was more realistic than other kids, I had to be to survive and not be so terribly disappointed with my circumstances. Most importantly I had the belief of one God as well, no one ever used “If your naughty or nice” twisted philosophy on me. So when it came time to raise my own kids, I married someone who also had been framed with a belief and we decided not to play along. I can remember the day my daughter Kate was completely frightened by Santa visiting the library during story time, her telling me she didn’t want a stranger coming into our house! I think all of our kids are different and at that moment my daughter was looking at me to be honest. We had difficult moments being with other family members who did want their kids to believe, so we would have discussions and my daughter got into it several times with her cousin and a neighbor friend. I didn’t feel the pressure to go along, nor did I hide or make Santa to be bad, he was a character like all the other books we had read and they watched the holiday movies and enjoyed them but we held onto the world remembering Jesus’ birth and how our beliefs in even that were not so popular. Now that my kids are grown I have asked them did they feel like they missed out not being told there was a Santa and they honestly said no. Just like other kids who have grown up believing in Santa are also just fine. I think the important thing is to do what is best for your family, not judge others and hopefully they won’t judge you,and enjoying it all in whatever way you decide to celebrate or not. Here are my TWO CENTS plus more…thanks for the therapy and for a place to voice something that no one really talks about.

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