What Santa is packing in his sleigh

Grey's letter to Santa
Grey's letter to Santa

My son is four years old this Christmas. If you are old enough to find your way to this blog, you’re probably old enough to be told the truth. I was four the year I found out that Santa isn’t quite as corporeally real as we pretend. When I was three, many years prior, I had a desk that had gotten left behind when my parents packed us into a station wagon and drove from Atlanta to California by way of Canada. Mom and dad were never too keen on that “Fastest way between two points” stuff. I digress. I yearned for this desk. (Full disclosure: I STILL yearn for that desk in some tiny part of me and am working very hard not to buy Grey a desk-like-object because the four-year-old in me wants that desk.)

Anyway, it was made abundantly clear to Santa (and daddy) that I wanted a desk for Christmas. My sister and I shared a room in our small house with the walnut trees outside. Christmas Eve came, and two very excited young girls gabbled and bounced sleepless in their beds. I had nodded off when my sister woke me up. A sound of thumping was heard through the wall. “He’s here. Let’s sneak a peek.” And so with infinite subtlety, we snuck open the door and poked rumpled blonde heads out to see the Man Himself.

And there was my poor father, nursing a stubbed toe from placing my desk under the tree. We understood immediately. The door was quietly closed, and we retreated to discuss strategy. We agreed on a pact of silence.

I don’t know how old I was when my PARENTS figured out that I had figured out what the game was. It never made it any less fun to play, but I’m glad they didn’t pretend any harder than they did. I would’ve known the lie. Because I wasn’t really looking for inconsistencies, I hope my parents didn’t have to work too hard. (No buying special “Santa” wrapping paper, for example.)

I’m thinking of it this year, of course. Grey wanted to know if he was sitting on the REAL Santa’s lap. I assured him without hesitation that he was. He announced to me the other day that he’s figured out his goal career. He wants to be one of Santa’s Elves and make presents. He’s ok with the uniform constraints, but admits that he might miss me every once in a while. (All humor aside: it was surprisingly well thought out with the data he had. He had considered quite a few consequences and outcomes of this decision!) We are at the very height of Santa-joy: old enough to make cookies, young enough to not consider the physics of Christmas eve flight.

I’m also doing the last minute planning for the presents. I probably need to do a present-review and see if I’m sadly lacking in any category. You know, are there books, crafts, obnoxiously noisy plastic toys, stocking stuffers, and most of the items on his and Robby’s Christmas lists? In future years, I’ll need to make sure I have present-parity between the boys.

One of the things I’m doing for both boys this year is new-to-them toys. Thane will be getting, wrapped up, some of the toys I set aside years ago from Grey’s room. Why not? The only difference between those and a new toy is packaging. Grey will be getting his first real Legos. We have roughly 30 – 40 POUNDS of Legos from my husband’s childhood. Seriously. A huge duffel bag and a big plastic garbage bag FULL of teeny tiny Legos. At current market prices, that quantity of Legos would cost thousands of dollars. (Seriously, have you SEEN Lego prices lately?) I got overwhelmed by them, and just picked out a nice pile for him.

The more I think about it, the more I think I’d like to give the boys all their presents without packaging. In our culture, packaging marks the difference between “New Presents I Bought For You” and “Presents Of Unknown Provenance”. When my mother-in-law scores a real find for me in thrift stores, she’ll often say, “And it still has the tags!” since that proves that it’s new. When we give gifts we use that packaging as a marker of newness. It actually gets in the way of the gift experience, though. “Wow, a truck! OK, now give mommy 20 minutes with wire clippers and you can play with it!”. It also conditions our kids to think that proper gifts come with original packaging and proper gifts are new.

I don’t want that. If my son was holding out for new Legos, he’d get about 15 of them for $30 bucks. (Seriously, this set has under 300 pieces for $150 bucks and is not that unusual pricing-wise.) By being ok with pre-loved Legos, he’ll get a big bag for, um, free. I would like that to hold true as my sons get older, too.

I think I’ll make it a point for things that are unlikely to be returned (no sizing issues) to remove the packaging before wrapping it. Yes, it means my sons won’t know when the toy they’re getting is new. But hopefully it means that they’ll evaluate their toys on whether or not it’s fun to play with, and not whether anyone’s ever played with it before. In some tiny way, perhaps that will help dial back the commercialism of Christmas.

What do you think? Do you always keep new toys in their new packages? How hard to you work to maintain the Santa mythos? How old were you when you found out? How did you take it?
Grey's letter to Santa

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6 thoughts on “What Santa is packing in his sleigh

  1. We need to avoid the topic. My kids firmly believe that the Santas they see around are “helpers” for the real big guy. Who eats cookies.

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  2. So you don’t remember the 1 present Christmases in Zaire, with lots of hand me down toys and clothes. The one present was well loved indeed!

    We still have the desk, don’t we? I will check when I get home.

    It was Matthew I remember hanging on to the myth. I think he was still at least pretending when he was 10. But pretending is fun! It really is!

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  3. we used to get presents with ‘santa’ etc. in the from line on the card. when i was eight i finally got my parents to stop pretending/trying so hard to go along with the idea that my older brother and i actually believed in a corporeal santa [love the distinction, btw] by pointing out that my dad–who has incredibly distinctive handwriting–had spelled ‘rudolph’ wrong.

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  4. At 3, Boo has declared that Santa is his best friend and he even likes reindeer now. We bought his big gifts off of Craigslist – a kitchen and a dollhouse. Both well used with scratches and marker marks, etc. We won’t even pretend they are new. But they have plenty of play left in them. And Boo won’t even notice or care. By buying used he will get both of the things he wanted. New, he would have gotten one.

    I think raising kids who understand recycling, reusing, regifting is just as important as raising a kid who understands that the paper and plastic go in the blue bin and we turn off lights when we leave a room. Will we always buy used? No, and we do have some new things for him (little things, he gets enough stuff from my family, we don’t buy him much). But I think a mix is good.

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