It’s that time of year again. The time of year when stores get more crowded, flyers arrive in droves, and pages of newspapers fill up with children’s letters to Santa.
I’m an authority on this subject for a number of reasons.
1. I worked for a newspaper.
2. I have a child, and therefore spend a lot of time with mothers of other children, and I’ve met some who are planning massive toy acquisitions for their 4-month-olds.
3. Once, when I was about 7 years old, I kept stats on what toys were most popular among the letters to Santa in The Telegram. I had a pink exercise book, and each Saturday for 3 weeks or so or until I gave up on it, I would read the letters published in the Saturday paper and make a careful mark in my book every time a kids demanded a Barbie, or Pog, or Hot Wheels or Lego or whatever the must-have item of the year was. (This year, among the 4-8 set, it’s a walking, talking, furry dog, in case you were wondering, followed closely by robotic hamsters.)
But notwithstanding my childhood obsession with record-keeping, I have a real dislike of Santa letters.
No, not YOUR child’s letter to Santa. Not the ones kids write on Christmas Eve and toss in the fireplace. Not the notes kids leave next to the milk and cookies. But the letters that parents write for their kids and publish in the newspaper.
Because though there are the beacons of hope for the next generation that ask for only one or two things, the vast majority of kids are listing many, many items.
And then, the line that gets me most of all. When they finish listing Barbies, Wiis, Xboxes and laptops, they add the killer: “…and anything else you would like to bring me.” Which in my mind is immediately translated to mean the child is thinking, “the snowboard, Playstation and cell phone are OBVIOUSLY not all I’m going to get, so bring on the gifts, Santa! After all, I’ve been a good boy or girl all year.”
My friends and I are divided over this. They say the kids don’t expect to get it all, but the letter is merely a wish list, and don’t we all have long wish lists of our own? (Mine includes window frames, doors and baseboards. Just letting you know, Santa).
But when the parent is writing on their child’s behalf, when the child is not old enough to understand to even ask for anything, how is it nothing more than the parent using their child as a vehicle for his or her own consumerism? And for those children that are able to make their own list, why aren’t the parents gently suggesting moderation? And aren’t they embarrassed to have their child’s greed made public for the world to see?
And as if to temper the greed, the letters invariable wrap up with a line urging Santa not to forget about the sick and less fortunate. I want to believe children are generous and empathetic. I do. But after so many, it feels like nothing more than lip-service.
Perhaps it’s a question of volume. I’ve always had a problem with massive amounts of one thing. For example, when I was in university I was helping members of the Student Union put together Frosh packs for incoming students. Maps of campus, pamphlets on the union’s services, pizza coupons, and of course, condoms. Only 2 in each bag, but 2 times a thousand is a lot of condoms, and seeing them piled on the office floor like that stripped sex of all it’s good and turned it into a pile of lubricated latex. I still remember the feeling, much like nausea, at the thought of all that sex.
(Am I talking about letters to Santa and condoms in the same blog post? Yes I am.)
Let me give you another example, more PG this time. I love chocolate-covered JuJubes. I mean, I LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE chocolate covered JuJubes. When I see them in little bags on convenience store counters, I just can’t help myself. I always buy a bag for the road. And I savour those eight or nine candy. But when I go to the Bulk Barn and see that giant bin of chocolate covered JuJubes? I can’t even look at them, much less bring myself to buy them. Volume. When something becomes so common, it loses any real meaning.
All things in moderation. Perhaps I should only allowed myself to read two or three letters. After all, I can’t change the world.
So am I prosecuting the child for the crimes of their parents? Am I rejecting the Santa letter ritual just because it has become too commonplace? Wouldn’t it be nice if all these kids were listing the gifts they were going to GIVE, rather than the ones they expect to receive?
I promised myself I would never judge another parent on their parenting, so this tirade is more against society as a whole that accepts and expects Gimme-gimme-More-More-MORE. What does it say about us that we celebrate and even promote avarice during the Christmas season?
The world is still reeling from an economic meltdown, created in large part due to greed. A Santa letter may be insignificant compared to a global financial crises, but what if we could change the world by instilling gratitude, rather than greed, in our children? Wouldn’t the annual letter to Santa be the perfect place to start?