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Initiating the de-Santafication of Christmas

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, 1:33 a.m.

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi Carolyn:

My son is 7 and still believes in Santa, that Santa makes toys in his workshop, all of it. He asked Santa for a hoverboard, an iPhone and a $200 robot. I simply cannot afford these things, and he wouldn’t get a phone at his age anyway. He’ll be getting plenty of other gifts from Santa, me and relatives, but I’m already heartbroken at the thought of his disappointment on Christmas morning when he sees he didn’t get what he asked for. Is there a way to handle this without ruining the Santa fantasy?

— Not Santa

Seems to me the Santa fantasy has ruined the Santa fantasy, and so it’s hard to see a good reason to keep it going.

It’s too late to change this year, but you can pre-empt next year’s Santa disappointments by starting the de-Santafication process now. Be a little less awesome at maintaining the facade and use the same wrapping paper and handwriting for your gifts from “Santa” and from you. Letting him piece it together himself is so much better than what would effectively be a “JK! We yanked your chain for years.”

You can ease the hard feelings this epiphany might bring by treating him as if he’s in on it now: Remind him not everyone is as grown up as he is (see?), and so he needs to watch what he says around “little” kids.

That is the biggest of the Santa bummers: instilling the myth, aka lie, is easy and fun, but few people warn you to think through the endgame first.

As for this year, you have a couple of options: Explain that Santa does what he can, and it’s not always what we want (so much truth to that); or get creative; or pool your buying power with relatives to buy one wish-list item (signed with real names); or say you heard from Santa that he can’t bring these and is there something else he’d like?

But I say all this knowing these fantasy holidays have disappointment built in, at least until we’re old enough not to need everything to be perfect — and your son is years away from that.

He asked for real things, yes, but it could just as well have been a unicorn on his wish list. There’s no fixing that except by having Santa be the agent of no, and it happens eventually to every kid. With the possible exception of kids whose asks are reasonable (perhaps they are the unicorns?) or whose extravagant wishes are all met — and that’s even worse for them in the long run than Santa’s kick to the shins.

Re: Santa:

A friend of mine once told me any big-ticket item was a gift from the parents and some less-expensive items were gifts from Santa. They did this because their kids had less fortunate friends, and it’s difficult to explain to an 8-year-old why Santa only gave him an action figure but he gave the kid down the street an Xbox. Also, they thought it was better to show their kids they shouldn’t expect expensive gifts from some mythical gift-giver with deep pockets, yet still keep the magic of Santa alive.

— Friend

Great idea, thank you.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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