Note from Carmen: This post was originally meant to go up during the holidays. Christmas may be over, but Easter is on its way! So I’m posting this anyway, as I think Michelle’s thoughts are still relevant, funny and thought-provoking.
by Anti-Racist Parent Columnist Michelle Myers
Since my oldest daughter Myong has been old enough to understand and latch onto the fantasy of Christmas, I have waged war against Santa Claus. A progressive and pro-“of color” Mommy, I regarded Santa as Family Enemy #1, for he was a suspiciously jolly and costumed white man who appeared to pilfer parents of the gratitude, love, and adoration we rightfully deserved from our over-indulgent, toy-crazed children. My Mommy reconnaissance missions indicated that Santa was ever-present in my daughter’s life—from preschool to television to lawn decorations—and needed to be taken out immediately.
Having sized up Santa as a formidable adversary, I knew my offensive had to be swift, brutal, and indisputable—but at the same time could not appear calculated or hateful. I had to wait for a moment in which Santa was offered to me voluntarily and completely vulnerable. That moment came when, one day, my daughter asked me how Santa was going to leave presents in our house since we didn’t have a chimney.
“Santa doesn’t exist,” I told Myong in a disapproving tone intended to extinguish the glint of Santa-allure in her toddler’s eyes. “Why would some old, fat white man in a red suit come visit us? Besides, you do not take gifts from strangers—all the presents you get on Christmas are from people who love you—be sure to thank them.”
Ha! I gloated at how easily Santa had fallen—make-believe, white man, stranger danger, family guilt—Santa never stood a chance.
Or so I thought. Santa culture in this country is amazingly strong, and the children who are non-believers often endure rigorous proselytizing campaigns made by believers and their agents. One year at school, Myong found herself forced to make clay Santa ornaments. Unsure what to do and fearful that I would mortally wound her art project with my “Santa Buster” bazooka and bury its shattered bits under the remains of the Easter Bunny still rotting away in an undisclosed place in our home, she decided that her best course of action would be to combat me head-on and force me to accept Santa by my own terms.
I was caught off-guard when she came home from school and presented me with a brown-faced Santa ornament with her name etched on the back. “Can we put it on the tree, Mommy? I know there’s no such thing as Santa, but I painted him brown like me—and I made it for you.” Left defenseless by her cunning reverse tactics and strategic puppy-dog-eyes appeal, I grudgingly admitted defeat and hung that brown-faced Santa ornament on our tree. And noticing Myong’s glowing face as she lovingly regarded the art project which bore her name dangling amidst the soft lights of our Christmas tree, I wondered what my war against Santa was good for.
Though I intermittently fought lesser battles against Santa over the years, I didn’t anticipate that his ultimate defeat would come through the hands and words of my daughter herself. There is nothing more powerful in destroying childhood fantasies than the derisive and judgmental laughter of older children. To some extent, my own war against Santa spared Myong from experiencing the confusion and hurt caused by the piercing words of older kids exclaiming to her, “You still believe in Santa?! There’s no such thing as Santa, you big baby!” This she already knew.
But what sadness for me to discover a few weeks ago that my now ten-year-old daughter was telling 2nd and 3rd graders in the afterschool program she attends that Santa doesn’t exist. As the woman who supervises the program pulled me aside with all the airs and indicators of needing to have “the talk” with me about something Myong did, I knew already what she was going to tell me. And with her account of my daughter and her friends’ assault against Santa and how the little ones cried over his dead body, I found myself mourning as well—mourning that my daughter truly wasn’t my little baby-girl anymore who wanted so much to believe in Christmas magic and Santa.
With my son and youngest daughter now entering those wonder years of childhood in which monsters live in closets and reindeer really do fly, I have been trying to declare a truce with Santa. When my son asked me a couple of days ago if we could bake cookies for Santa, I said “OK” and began planning how I could make baking cookies with my kids a cherished childhood memory for them. When my husband asked Victor why he thought Santa would want cookies and what if Santa needed to use the bathroom instead, Victor said Santa could come in and do whatever he wanted “as long as he takes his shoes off first.” When I tuck my youngest daughter Vanessa into bed every night and ask her what three songs she wants me to sing before she goes to sleep and she asks for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Up on the Housetop,” and “Here Comes Santa Claus,” I sing them and treasure her gleeful smiles, her sparkling eyes. And when Myong and I found an abandoned Santa ornament in a shopping cart before we did some holiday shopping over the past weekend, I asked her if it mattered that he was a white Santa. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “No.” After I rescued that white Santa from his cart, wiped him off with a baby wipe, and took him home, Myong hung him on our Christmas tree under the brown-faced Santa bearing her name. Peace, Santa.
Michelle Myers holds a Ph.D. in English from Temple University, specializing in Asian American Literature. She is a founding member of the spoken word poetry group Yellow Rage, which was featured on HBO’s RUSSELL SIMMONS PRESENTS DEF POETRY, and which recently released its second CD: HANDLE WITH CARE, VOL. 2. She is also a founding member of the performance collective Asians Misbehavin’. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Community College of Philadelphia and Grants Coordinator at SEAMAAC (Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition). Michelle lives in NJ with her husband, Tyrone, and their three children: Myong, Victor, and Vanessa.