Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl are excited about the impending visit from Santa, and despite my misgivings, reluctance, and inherent distrust of rampant consumerism, I know that there will be presents under our tree from Santa. Because I’ve always been a skeptic (read Grinch) and because I also don’t view this holiday as a religious one (it has long ago become a secular celebration of greed), I have tried to walk a different path with Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl. It seems, though, that no matter how I present the holiday – or how much I resist, they soak up the culture of Santa and presents like sponges. It seeps into their pores and comes out, at least in the case of Gorilla Girl, as a list of “needs.” Her list, thankfully, is modest – a notebook, markers, a headband, a dress with bows, and recently added a unicorn pillow pet. Admittedly, I am sometimes a Grinch who gives generous gifts, and who even enjoys the idea of celebration and sharing time with friends and family. I know I am not alone in my desire for connection with others and for sharing food and time, even gifts, but I’d prefer that it happen in a context that holds more meaning for me.
Perhaps, I just need to find a framework that provides for connection minus Santa and Three Wise Men, et al.
One year, I bought chicks, goats and other farm animals for my nieces and nephews through Heifer International. I thought it was inspired, but I learned later that my sister and brother were unhappy with my idea. They thought I was judging their participation in the consumerism of Christmas. Or maybe they thought I was cheap. Or maybe they thought I was a Grinch. It could be all of that. What it might even have come down to is their own kids’ confusion at such gifts. The chicks, goats and other animals came with little books explaining the use of the animals by those living in poverty around the world, but perhaps my nieces and nephews had no context for understanding this symbolic gift and were perplexed instead. My attempt at trying to find a way to participate in the gift giving beyond the traditional failed miserably that year in their eyes, but even now, despite the failure, it seems like a good idea to me.
I’ve included Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) in the Santa and present bringing discussion, but Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl don’t go for it. Maybe my cultural ignorance is communicated so they don’t acquiesce to my suggestion that Uncle Ho helps Santa bring the gifts. I’m really just making it up, though I know at some point, I read or heard about Uncle Ho and his benevolent persona as it is told to small children in Vietnam, in what sounded like a Saint Nick sort of story. Gorilla Girl just looks at me quizzically when I talk about Uncle Ho. The name even works, but I suppose, deep down, Ho Chi Minh would abhor the idea of being trotted out along side Santa.
I wonder how long Monkey Man’s and Gorilla Girl’s fascination with Santa will last – and for how long I will be able to use Santa as the bad cop. For the last couple of weeks, whenever Gorilla Girl or Monkey Man misbehave, either Ed or I threaten that Santa will find out and will not bring presents. I am not proud to buy into this consumerist arm-twisting, but at the end of a long day, this particular carrot and stick method is most effective at getting through dinner, bath, and bedtime.
My lack of Christmas spirit is born of many things, but I will admit that early in my childhood, my cousin demolished the fantasy of Santa. My cousin, four years older than me, showed my sister and me the stash of gifts hidden in my parents’ closet one night when she was babysitting. I think my younger sister still harbors resentment about the destruction of her innocence, but I felt liberated. I was already a skeptic, and maybe she recognized it and decided to reveal the truth. Knowing the truth felt powerful, and it bestowed upon me the role of present wrapper for my younger siblings. My mom frequently revealed the secret gifts to me in preparation for the big day, and it felt more special to know how much thought and sacrifice she put into the gifts than any Santa possibly could have. And now that I am on this fantasy-upholding end of the bargain, I am not sure how long I can sustain it. My husband does a far better job than I do engaging Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl in the fantasy of the North Pole, Santa and magical toys. So maybe I’ll leave that part of the parenting to him.
I can’t just let myself off the hook so easily. I find the holiday season challenging on many levels, and maybe with each passing holiday season, I will find new ways to create traditions that will fulfill my need for connection while I hold at bay the clamor of consumption.