On Christmas Traditions: Lying To Our 3-year-old About Santa Claus and Other Rules of Being a Good Parent

No matter what part of the world we are in, whether we’re “home,” or away, Christmas is one of our favorite times of the year because of the different traditions involved, including our evolving ones.

For Kavya’s first Christmas, I dressed up as a badly dressed Santa with bits of velvet and cotton balls glued to a piece of paper for a beard. You can see how well that went in the photo gallery above.

When Kavya was just under two, we took a massive family Christmas trip to Hawaii to frolic about in the sand with Santa in shorts and a surfboard, while everyone in New York and New Jersey were wading through the snow. We still got to make a snowman and participate in the tradition of commuting to work through slush when we came back though. Whew.

Since Kavya entered the scene three years ago, lying has become a staple in our parenting toolkit on a general level. It’s the only one, really. Santa Claus or Father Christmas or Jumping Jehozafat, or whatever you want to call him, is an excellent way to get the kids to behave, with the threat of being skipped over.

This morning, we told Kavya she needed to take a bath because Santa Claus doesn’t visit houses with stinky children. She refused to wear a sweater or socks this morning, and Sona told her that Santa was going to give presents to everybody else, except her, because of the warm clothing situation. Even I thought Santa was being a dick. The lie has to become more convincing this year because she’s already started to figure things out.

We bought her a t-shirt at Disneyland when we went to California over thanksgiving, and kept it hidden from her, then wrapped it up and put it behind the sofa at Nani-ma’s, which we we thought was a safe place. Kavya’s already met Santa twice – once at Disneyland and once at school, and through this personal interaction, she tries to convince Nani-ma that he’s brought some of her presents early.

Nani-ma is told in no uncertain terms by Sona to maintain the lie and walk the line: Santa ONLY brings presents to well behaved children and ONLY on Christmas Eve.  The second Nani-ma goes to the kitchen, Kavya rages through the house like the tasmanian devil, and rips open the wrapping paper with the t-shirt in it. “See,” she says when Nani-ma comes back to see Kavya wearing the t-shirt, “I told you Santa brought my present early.”

Me and Sona grew up with very different Christmas traditions. Neither of our families are Christian, so church or celebration of Jesus as Lord and Savior was never a part of the tradition. The narrative of Santa Claus or as I still refer to him, Father Christmas, is a central focus, and the sentiment of good will, charity, and spending time with family.

When Sona’s parents first moved to America from Iran, Sona and her sister, Meena, were around 4-years-old. Their first Christmas, Sona’s parents put the presents in the fireplace, stockings under the tree because they knew vaguely that Santa, a chimney, presents, a Christmas tree, and stockings were all involved. They just weren’t clear on the order. For years, Sona and Meena believed in Santa until one evening they were watching the news and a segment comes on, “Is Santa Claus Real,” and the illusion ended. But the tradition of spending time with family, eating up a storm, stockings, presents, and Sona’s mom’s famous Masala Turkey is a staple.

My parents, on the other hand, never bothered with Christmas or any other celebration. Even our birthdays are done half-arsed. If it were up to them, we’d probably celebrate Christmas by sitting around the table eating daal, roti, and sabji. Dad watches the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, while Mom reads a book on how to make an art project from empty egg crates. But Christmas is not something you can avoid unintentionally. It takes great effort to say, “Bah, Humbug” and really mean it.

When I was about five, we lived in Nigeria, where Father Christmas is decidedly black and Christmas traditions are very similar to Diwali in India: mayhem in the streets, firecrackers everywhere, everyone goes shopping, and people give money to little kids in little red envelopes.

In Dubai, where I lived when I was eight, Father Christmas was brown, and would sit next to a dodgy looking foam snowman at an outdoor market. In England, he was white, and would come to our school, asking what we wanted and whether we’d been good or bad (I thought he was supposed to be keeping track).

Once, he was a racist. I was about six and he was waiting for us in the coat closet. It didn’t seem creepy to anyone, apparently. I had a very specific list, starting with a remote controlled motorbike, ending with a remote control helicopter, and some chocolates thrown in for good measure: maltesers, flake, lion bar, wispa, Aeros. My sister probably asked for world peace or something. I’d just taken my list out and before I began, Father Christmas asked me if “Pakis even celebrate Christmas.” I only got to read one of my requests before he shooed me away.

But while my personal position of You go to hell, Santa, remains, it helped that I never believed he was real. I did not go through the trauma of finding out Father Christmas is not real because my parents gave it to us straight from the get go. They didn’t have the money to buy all sorts of gifts, or trees, only for some old, white, man to take all the credit. The tooth fairy story they were fine with, since it didn’t really require much effort. Cash under the pillow. Sometimes a chocolate to reward me for losing a tooth. Done. So this plonker of a Father Christmas to me was just someone’s plonker dad dressed up.

Christmas, to me, is all about family traditions, no matter what they are. I remember being really excited about Christmas not because of presents or any of those things, but because of our family traditions. Before the days of DVRs and really expensive VCRs, we’d all huddle around the telly on Christmas morning in our pajamas. Mum would make cha, and an English breakfast: sausages,bacon, eggs, toast, beans. We’d all watch Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang and Mary Poppins, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. One year, me and my sister built a really rubbish snowman. I learned to make jam tarts in school and that became a thing we did every Christmas. So was eggnog.

Kavya is not going to remember the presents we bought her, or even the food she ate. But she will know that Christmas is a time to bond with family. Every Christmas, we make it a point to buy a tree that’s small and functional. Our favorite is a rosemary tree from Whole Foods. It’s small, and once Christmas is over you can use it to flavor your food! My mum gave it her approval.

When we went to Disneyland earlier this year, the last place on Earth I thought I would have fun at, it was so exciting to see Kavya’s light up as she saw princesses and castles all come to life.  And then we all got to meet Santa. This Christmas is one of particular significance to us because it will be the last Christmas with just the three of us. Our new addition arrives in February – just in time for more snow when we will undoubtedly add more traditions. Eggnog, hot toddy, toad in the hole, trifle and jam tart February? Sounds about right. I like the idea of the “traditional Christmas,” because it’s so open to interpretation.

photoKavya is sitting with her Massi (that Meena one) on the sofa. They’re mucking about with the Apple TV, scanning youtube for shows that are longer than 2 minutes. One was a Snow White story with white characters and Indian accents. Brilliant and epically stupid at the same time.

When the show ends, Kavya says, “let’s watch a different one.”
“Okay,” Meena says.
“Because we don’t want to watch the same one,” Kavya clarifies. “But the different one has to be one of my shows.”.

Later, Kavya is doing some artwork on Meena’s iPad mini, and sneezes on it.
“You’re always sneezing on my devices,” Meena says.
“Oops,” Kavya says.
“Yeah, oops is right.”
They lock eyes. The discussion has moved towards the cookies I’m going to bake today. Cookie crisps with M&Ms? I think so.

Big plans today. Big plans.

Happy Christmas everyone!

How do you celebrate Christmas when you’re traveling or at home? What are some of your family traditions?


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