Is Santa Claus real? Or is he just a man in a red suit? What would you tell the little ones when they ask?
CHRISTMAS celebrations are steeped in traditions passed from generation to generation. Santa Claus is probably part of children’s favourite Christmas memories because he brings presents on a reindeer sleigh for those who have been good all year long. A few families share how they celebrate Christmas and what it means to them.
Spirit of giving
WHEN Tristan turned six, his friends told him Santa did not exist.
“He got really upset. One day he just came home and asked: ‘Is there really a Santa?’ I wasn’t prepared for that at all. I didn’t know how to say, ‘No, he doesn’t exist’, because that sounded so blunt. I had to quickly think up an explanation,” says mother-of-four Sasha Joanne Wee, 36.
That was a year ago, and the former accountant decided there was no two ways about it – honesty is the best policy.
“I told him Santa exists. He was St Nicholas and he used to give to the poor. He was the one who started the spirit of giving. After he was gone, his spirit lived on. Everybody remembered what he did and that’s how he remained alive during Christmas.”
Thankfully, Tristan accepted that explanation (though he did tell his younger brother and sister, aged five and four, that Santa was dead). For a lot of kids who grew up believing in Santa, it is surprising to find out he is not real.
“My parents told me about Santa very early on. It was a matter-of-fact kind of thing, and he was just like a character in stories. It’s the same for my husband. But I believe that for some people, what they remember about Christmas is the whole magic of Santa. There is no right or wrong, just what’s best for the family,” says Sasha. While Sasha prefers to go easy with the truth, her husband, Sheldon Wee, feels that it’s only logical to cap magic to a certain age.
According to the 37-year-old entrepreneur, parents should keep it real.
“Children grow really fast these days and they’re very smart. You can’t hide them from bad words and bad movies because they are going to find out on their own. When your child questions the existence of Santa, it’s always best to be honest and open. There’s no need to hide anything because he’s going to find out you’re lying to him and he’s not going to come to you the next time.”
The message you should be sharing with your children is that Christmas isn’t about Santa coming to visit; it’s about the spirit of giving, adds Sheldon.
Countdown to Christmas
CHRISTMAS is the holiday the Jeremiah children look forward to the most.
Their excitement and anticipation start as soon as their family tree goes up. Michelle Long and her husband Raphael Sidney Jeremiah involve their children in the festive preparations; from decorating the Christmas tree to baking cookies and wrapping presents.
Long and Jeremiah have explained to their children, five-year-old Hannah Marissa and two-year-old Aiden Zachary that Christmas is celebrated to observe the birth of Jesus Christ. Curious Hannah, however, cheekily questioned her mother recently, “How many times is Jesus born, then, mummy?” remembering that she has celebrated Christmas a few times with her family.
“We had to explain to her, that just like her birthday, Jesus has a birthday each year too,” laughs her mother, who was quite tickled by her child’s curiosity.
Both Aiden and Hannah believe that if they are good all year, Santa will leave them presents on Christmas Eve.
“If I am naughty, Santa won’t come and visit. Santa also says I should be thankful and happy with any gift I receive. I shouldn’t demand for this and that,” says Hannah who is hoping to find Monster High dolls in her stocking this Christmas. Hannah is also curious about how Santa will come into their house, since it doesn’t have a chimney.
Each year, her parents come up with creative answers. “We give her interesting answers because we think both Hannah and Aiden are too young to know the truth about Santa,” says Long. “As long as they have fun with the idea and it doesn’t cause them any harm, it’s OK for them to still believe in the existence of Father Christmas.
“When they are older, they learn to figure things out on their own. For now, they are just too precious for us to tell them the truth,” explains Long.
Hannah and Aidenare taught that Christmas is about giving, receiving and sharing.
They bake gingerbread cookies and distribute them to their friends and family. This year, the family distributed party bags to refugee children there.
Let the magic last
SHELDON’S aunt, Deirdre Theseira and her family, are happy to keep Santa well and alive.
The youngest two in her family, Miguel and Manuel Gomes, aged 12 and eight, are strong Santa supporters. Each Christmas Eve, the brothers would leave a glass of milk and a plate of cookies for Santa. The reindeer, too, will get a carrot.
Come Christmas morning, there will only be crumbs and an empty glass left behind. And at the foot of the boys’ beds would be Santa’s gifts for them, taken off a wish list mailed to the North Pole.
“We started this tradition from the time my kids were born. We never really explained it. On Christmas Eve, we would just say that you have to go to sleep otherwise Santa won’t come. If you’ve been good, Santa will come and bring you a present at night,” explains Theseira, 47.
“There were a few times when we saw costumed Santas at different malls and my kids had asked why there were so many of them. My answer was: Well, Santa is really busy and those are his helpers, just like the elves.”
She tells her children, “The day you stop believing in Santa, is the day the magic stops. Santa won’t be coming by anymore after that.”
But no matter how hard parents try, children eventually grow up and discover that Santa doesn’t slide down the chimney.
Theseira’s eldest, Tatianna, 15, was about 11 when she came to realise that Santa’s gifts were probably from her mother.
“I remember I used to like reading this series of books. One day, my mum asked me which books I had and which ones I didn’t. And on Christmas morning, I received the ones I didn’t have, supposedly from Santa. That’s when the realisation hit,” Tatianna recalls.
“I was a bit disappointed. But after a while, the thought of a sleigh flying couldn’t be real and I used to always wonder how Santa came into the house because we didn’t have a chimney. So I just accepted that.”
Tatianna still receives presents for Christmas, just not from “Santa” anymore.
“Compared to when I was younger, the excitement I’d feel about Christmas is very different. I used to have a tough time going to sleep on Christmas Eve. I used to try peeking to see if I could catch Santa. When I woke up I would quickly go to the end of my bed to see what Santa has given me. I would take everything and lay it out on my bed and then go running to my mummy and daddy saying: ‘Look what Santa brought me!’ I guess that’s one of the childhood experiences I miss most. I think I would’ve liked it if I could still believe in Santa.”
Tatianna has since kept the “secret” to herself. “I still feel that sense of magic when it comes to Santa. Whenever my brothers talk about Santa, there’s like this special light in their eyes, and I didn’t want to spoil it for them.”
Theseira says: “My parents did Santa for us as children. It’s something I’ve just passed down to my own children. I think it’s a nice aspect of Christmas, that you’re getting a surprise from Santa. If you’ve been bad, you obviously don’t get what you ask for. So it also serves as a form of motivation to get them to be good the whole year, or make promises of wanting to be good.
“I don’t feel like I’m deceiving my kids. I think when they do eventually uncover the truth, they aren’t going to be angry at me, because that’s the magic of Christmas. There are so many horrible things happening in the world these days, I think parents will go to any extent just to hold on to a tiny bit of magic, even if it’s just for Christmas.”
‘The ghost of Christmas’
AMIDST the festivities, Sharon Bright is determined her sons Shawn Sanjay Raj, nine, and Shane Shanjeev Raj, three, learn the true meaning of Christmas.
“To my sons, Christmas really is about gifts, toys and cookies. It’s a little easier with my elder son since he learns from his teachers and friends in school,” says Bright.
But they have also been attending Sunday school and know about its religious meaning.
“The boys have also been taught to pray and think of the less fortunate on this special day,” she says.
But Bright also encourages her younger son to believe in a little magic.
“I don’t see any harm for my boys to grow up with some made up stories. Shane is only three and I want his growing years to be memorable.”
While Shawn is well aware that Santa is just a myth, Shane believes that Santa is really the ghost of Christmas.
“Shane’s explanation is that Santa is all white and since bad children don’t get presents, he must be a ghost!” she shares. Both boys agree presents is the highlight of Christmas and they usually write up lists of things they want.
“This year, my eldest son Shawn, slipped me a note telling me what he wants for Christmas is a Samsung S4, complete with smiley faces and a Christmas tree. Unfortunately, his request is going to receive a rather large ‘No’ note in return,” exclaims the cheeky mother.
“We all really look forward to Christmas. I enjoy the day off and being surrounded by my family and children,” says Bright.