On a short trip out of state today, I stopped at a sandwich joint for a quick lunch and as I waited, two of the counter waitresses talked about their Christmas shopping plans. One listened as her coworker spoke of continuing to search for great deals so that her kids could have a good Christmas day. The listener then complained that she now felt guilty for cutting back on Christmas presents. On the cusp of a syndicated story about kids’ letters to Santa during recession and how they’re feeling the pinch, it begs the question of how to handle Santa and the kids when the money is truly tight. Do you further impoverish yourself to keep appearances for the kids?
On the appearance hand, many parents want their children to believe in Santa for as long as possible. There’s a bittersweet wistfulness in the soul when the kids are old enough to leave Santa and what he represents; there’s still years of their presence – but an innocence is gone. For the parents who are caught in a financial bind, Santa also represents a reprieve from the daily tension that the kids certainly notice when Mom and/or Dad are confronted with financial hardship. What do I pay now? Can I get an extension on this? Children are sensitive to their parents and can easily discern when something’s not right and the thought is that, at least on Christmas Day, things are as they’re presented in the media and popular culture.
But appearance can and does give way to hard reality. This particular story line has run before with similar stories in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and this reappearance is sympomatic of the ongoing implosion of the American Middle Class. Kids are acutely aware that things are bad and are going to the one source that can work some kind of magic for their families, Santa Claus. The key point however, is that in the midst of the correspondence, they aren’t asking for themselves but instead for either what benefits the family or their parents, so that some sense of stability can be gained. This, I think, is the key to the entire situation. Parents have grown in an era of materialism and are almost programmed to think of the season in terms of things and wrapped presents; but these kids are now in the fourth year of a Great Retrenchment and those in the bind are writing off the materialism for something more fundamental, and that’s a sense of stability and control. Santa, forget the RC car and just help Dad find a job. Then we can get back to what we had before. What the kids are truly looking for is a sense of family, belonging and stability and that doesn’t come from a specified number of wrapped gifts but instead from the time and efforts that we fathers and parents put into them.
There’s no clear answer to this question and some will disagree with me profoundly. But in the final balance, what’s the point of pushing Santa for the kids if the ensuing angst over how to cover the rent ruins the holiday season? The kids would much rather know that the parents are doing everything that they can to keep things together and if they can contribute, then that’s one way that they’re probably willing to do so. Our job as parents is to maintain as even a keel as possible and that’s truly what the kids want, is to know that things are covered as much as possible.
If you’re uncertain, then talk to the Santas when you see them in the store.