Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Truth About Santa Claus

I recently took my kids to watch the film “Rise of the Guardians.” It was an entertaining movie, where the mythical beings that accompany some kids throughout their childhood, such as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, are portrayed as guardians who fight to keep the children of the world safe. The movie was strange for me due to the fact that all of these guardians came from Western cultures, but were meant to represent the childhoods of everyone in the world. Every culture always has their own sorts of beliefs that children are told to give some magic to the world or help them respect boundaries or authority, learn certain values. There are always similarities about these beliefs, but there are still very distinct differences. I was surprised that the film didn’t do more to show diversity in these guardians in line with the diversity of beliefs in the world.

After watching the film I asked my five-year-old Sumahi if she believed Santa Claus to be real. Her response, “Siempre!” This has presented me with a small problem. As Sumahi is five years old she has license to believe in just about anything, but what about me, how am I supposed to respond to her fictitious belief?

I am by nature a very critical person. This has manifested many times in the way I talk to Sumahi about the world. The first book that I ever bought for her was about the successful slave revolt on the Amistad. I’ve followed that up with a mixture of Disney princess books and as well as books related to peace and cultural empowerment.

When she was only two and we spotted a dead bird outside of our house, I hesitated for a moment when she asked me “Hafa bidada-na i paluma?” Like most parents so much of how you parent becomes about the issue of innocence. How much do you censor about the world, how much do you soften the harshness of reality? I told Sumahi, “Matai enao na paluma.” When she asked what that meant I said, “Kalang mamaigo’ gui’, lao ti u fakmata’ ta’lo.”

Discussions of colonialism and decolonization have naturally been difficult as they are very abstract for kids to grasp. But in some ways Sumahi already understands the basics. One of her current favorite movies is “Avatar” by James Cameron. Towards the end when the Na’vi are defeating the human mercenaries, Sumahi was jumping up and down on the couch cheering for them.

Sumahi and me already have a pretty good relationship in terms of truth and the world, but on the topic of Santa Claus I’m strangely apprehensive. I’m not exactly sure why. I can’t stand the idea of Santa Claus and most of the iconography and symbolism surrounding Christmas. It feels so foreign to Guam and to what I’m familiar with, that I have never really understood why people on Guam took up the idea of Santa Claus in their lives and how they would raise their children.

The way I see it now I have three basic responses for Sumahi on the Santa Claus issue:

1. The Sell-Out: I don’t rock the boat or cause any waves; I just go with the flow. I tell Sumahi that Santa Claus is real and she has nothing to worry about. This Christmas all those gift she’s going to get weren’t purchased by myself or any of her other relatives, instead they came from a bearded old white guy who broke into the house to place them under the tree!

2. The Dream Killer: I not only tell Sumahi the truth, I basically slap her in the face with it. I tell her that there is no such thing as Santa Claus, and while we are at it the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist either.

3. The Local Critique: I tell Sumahi that Santa Claus does exist, but he just doesn’t visit Guam. He does go out there and give random gifts to random boys and girls, but he never visits Guam. When she asks me why he wouldn’t visit Guam, I have plenty of options to explain my position. Santa’s reindeer would never be able to survive in Guam, they would overheat and die and those are special, hard-to-replace reindeer. Santa might also have a problem due to the lack of chimneys on island. I don’t know if his magical powers would allow him to squeeze through air conditioning ducts. Lastly, Santa Claus would never be able to survive all the boonie and non-boonie dogs on Guam. He would get ripped to shreds. 

I still haven’t decided which approach to take on the Santa Claus issue. There is a logic to both letting her have her illusions, as well as dispelling them, I’m so torn.

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