It is funny but I can’t remember ever believing in Santa Claus, not even as a young child. I grew up in the 70’s in Sweden to baby boomer parents where Santa make-believe was not high on the list of child rearing practices. Not that we didn’t celebrate Christmas, because we did. We celebrated with a mish-mash of traditions that spanned the traditional to the commercial. We decorated a tree and shared a Christmas dinner with extended family. We made Christmas decorations and exchanged gifts. At 3pm on Christmas Eve, my family, along with some 3 million other Swedes, would cuddle up on a sofa and watch the Disney cartoon medley that has been a Christmas tradition on Swedish television since 1960.
Not believing in Santa didn’t stop us from having our presents delivered by him on Christmas Eve (the day we celebrate Christmas in Sweden). Santa was always played by one of my uncles who would dress up in orange-red workpants and have a cotton-ball beard taped to his face. Sometimes, we kids would even help get “Santa” all dressed up.
Thinking back about this makes me wonder why, even though I never had that magical belief, it came to be that my kids all believed in Santa. And why did I work so hard to foster that belief? It started innocently enough with my three little ones writing letters to Santa, explaining how good they had been the past year, and presenting their wish lists with the hope of a Santa delivery on Christmas Eve. On my end, I would wrap Santa’s presents with special wrapping paper (that I carefully hid deep in my closet so that the kids would never find any evidence of it) and I used a gold sharpie to write their names in my best Santa handwriting. On the evening of the 23rd my kids would take out our special Santa bowl and plate and leave carrots for the reindeers and gingersnaps and milk for Santa – carrots and gingersnaps that I would later nibble (once the kids were safely asleep), so that it would look like we indeed had had a visit by Mr. Santa Claus himself.
One of our conundrums as the kids got older was the fact that all of their friends got Christmas gifts on the morning of December 25, as is customary in the United States. Why was it that our stockings were stuffed on the morning of the 24th? I never really came up with a good explanation for that one. My standard answer was that Santa knew we were Swedish and thus he made a special delivery for us – because that is the kind of guy he is (at least if you are on his Nice List)! It never occurred to me to celebrate on the 25th, or tone down the role of Santa. Maybe the Santa magic was mostly for myself, a way to bring back my sense of place and home as we celebrated Christmas far away from family and friends.
In a few days, my oldest is coming home from college. This 20-year-old of min still insists that Santa is real though I suspect it’s mostly to score cute-points. Nevertheless, none of my kids would ever admit to NOT believing in Santa — just in case… So this year, as I am starting to wrap gifts, I ask myself: do I bring out the special wrapping paper and the gold Sharpie?