First thought is, the question doesn’t sound stupid at all and good for you for following how you feel. The holiday season can be so full of joy, wonder and magic and yet, often when we have small children, it can also be stressful and based in the wrong focus. 3.5 is the perfect time to set the right tone for how you want the future holidays to flow and by setting the right perspective now, you line your child up to feel the wonder and magic and not have it backfire by finding out it doesn’t exist in a few years. Many a child has felt betrayal and lost faith in magic because of the Santa myth and it really doesn’t have to be that way.
I feel the concept of giving gifts at the holidays is simply an extension of the mystical elements of the season. Children love to receive presents (ok, don’t we all) and the joy of both giving and receiving is what the focus should be: Joy. Joy and appreciation. One of the things that always settle wrong with me about the Santa myth is that the appreciation for the giver is missing. It’s like the exchange is never finished when you can’t look at someone and thank them for their thought and consideration. Rather it can turn into a greed fest, with “what next?” being the common phrase. This can spread into how we approach life as well, as if we don’t stop to appreciate all of the wonders life has spread infront of us, we get into a rut of waiting for the next and feeling unsatisfied in each moment.
No matter what your spiritual belief is surrounding the season, there is a physical, magical reality going off that our family always takes part in. The fact that everything is dead, lying cold in the ground and yet life still survives. That a magic cord keeps life generating and that soon life will return again is pretty incredible. Seasons can make us aware of the magic and wonder of the world around us and there is so much to appreciate. No matter what your background, there is always a sense of light and hope. The world offers so many gifts and the exchange of gifts is simply another extension of that. Also, the feeling space/energy of the world always changes in the Christmas season. (Hence the phrase “I feel Christmas-y) Sights, smells, tastes all trigger a warmth and invigorating energy. Santa can sometimes get in the way of truly experiencing all sides of the experience.
Therefore, here’s what I suggest. This is what we have done with our own children and although they talk about Christmas gifts it’s been done in fun. I asked them after receiving your question whether they felt cheated by not being led down the Santa train, and they looked surprised at me and both agreed that they hadn’t missed it at all.
Talk to your daughter about Santa and how he derived from St. Nick. Tell her how long ago there was a man who saw poverty and people who lacked things and decided to share joy and lighten their load on Christmas. Tell her that since then, people have taken up his tradition and at Christmas they remember the joy HE felt by giving without looking for thanks or even without other’s knowing it was him. Be honest with her and tell her that a lot of children are told the he still comes into houses, but you don’t want to lie to her. Also encourage her to not talk about it with friends as they would be sad to hear he wasn’t real, but point out that there is so much magic around, you don’t need to lie about it. Rather you can play the game and she can even pretend if she likes and leave the cookies and milk. Hang the stockings, do the fanfare, but as an imaginary game, just for the fun of it.
If adults start asking her questions you don’t have to take part in it, but you don’t have to make it a big deal. For instance swooping in with replies like “She’s always good.” Or “oh her Dad and I are talking about what we’re giving.” Can divert rather than make it awkward.
It is so sad to see children suddenly “grow out of magic” when they find out there is no Santa Claus. They have been cheated as they have to relearn what they were born knowing: that we live in a world full of miracles and magic is everywhere.