I have read many posts lately about whether or not parents should perpetuate the Santa story. Two main points have been made that may be particularly relevant to autistic children:
- It is in effect lying to your children which could cause a breakdown of trust.
- The Santa or Father Christmas figure is used to manipulate and control children to be good, sometimes all year round, when Christmas should be about unconditional love.
It’s a hard one for me as I can’t remember a time when I believed in Father Christmas as we called him then. I have always been a ridiculous light sleeper and saw my Mum and Dad delivering our stockings very early in my childhood and every year there after. I kept the secret from my brothers and my sister but every year I would worry about how my parents would afford to buy the presents we asked for and every year I would try and ask for something small as we were a large family on a very low income.
I watched my Mum and dad work so hard keep Father Christmas alive and we were taught about the gift of giving and the magic of Christmas. We listened to how St Nicholas had given poor children hope in the depth of winter and his spirit of anonymous giving became Father Christmas. I wished I had that hope rather than knowing my parents were putting themselves in debt even to get us the most basic presents.
Although that part of Christmas was difficult for me I loved the crafting and traditions my Mum did with us, probably to save money like decorating oranges with cloves, making lanterns out of tin cans pierced with a nail and out annual walk into the countryside to collect greenery to decorate the house. We always got a tree in the last two days of Christmas because the price went down then and we would all decorate it with our home made decorations and real candles, probably a huge fire risk! Somehow it would always look far more perfect in the morning than I remembered as unbeknown to me my Mum would stay up after we had gone to bed to rearrange it with her artists eye.
When my own son was born I wanted to give him some of that idea of family love and giving but I didn’t want him to have to have the nagging thought that I did about who was paying for it so I worked hard on keeping Santa alive. I never used Santa as a threat although we did discuss the naughty list as he heard about it in school. I told him that Santa believed in second chances and understood children made mistakes and so children wouldn’t go without their presents. I remember my son saying that If God was real then we should make Santa god instead as God was mean and let wars and horrible things happen but Santa was always kind.
As is common with the PDA presentation of autism, my son has an amazing imagination and it has helps him cope in many ways. What he loves more than anything is when I join in, We not only had Santa, the Easter bunny and tooth fairy but the magic bag too. My son still talks about the magic bag as if it was real although he knows it was not. I invented it to help him with his anxiety and also because I am still a big kid who loves to believe in magic myself. Basically I had an old hand bag that I used to carry around with me and if my son needed cheering up something would appear in it when he said abracadabra and made a special hand gesture.
So for example after nursery or school if he said he had been sad because he missed me or that he had had a hard day I would say, ‘wow you have been brave today maybe there will be something in the magic bag’ and sure enough a small toy or sweet or comic would appear. The bag recognised his effort, it saw his good heart and good deeds when no one else did. He loved that bag just as he loved Santa and we both threw ourselves into both. They represented the magic of unseen kindness and fed his imagination and brought us both joy. The magic bag stopped when he was about 8, i just wound it down but he still talks about it with big shiny eyes even at 13. He asked if Santa was real for the first time at 12 and I told him he wasn’t but the spirit of giving unconditionally was. He said that’s what he thought.
So getting back to the original question is Santa a good thing I’d say for us he was because my sons imagination and belief in magic was what got him through tough times and with his anxiety and entering that world made a strong bond between us. It taught him about giving for giving sake (not for the acknowledgment of giving) and it was fun for us both. However I do understand the points, I know my son also has a very logical side and hates lying so if he had seen it in this way, as some autistic children might, it could of damaged our relationship and if I’d of tried to use it to control him it would of caused major issues with his need to feel he is the one control.
So in conclusion I guess what I am saying is know your child and do what feels right for them, don’t just try to live your childhood through them. Don’t be afraid to put your own spin on it to suit them, be that a more logical or more magical one. The main thing is that like the rest of the year they know it is all about love, love without conditions.