“You know, Santa is probably my favorite childhood memory.”
I speak more to myself than to my husband as I prop my feet on the dash, letting the windshield heat warm them, my gaze shifting from wooded roadside to night sky.
Few people were driving from Dallas to deep East Texas that Christmas Eve—and with the exception of some pop-up firework stands, it seemed we had the road all to ourselves. Leaning far back, I try to count the stars, just as I had dozens of times as a child, so long ago. On those magical nights, driving home from the annual bonfire/potluck on my ancestor’s farmland, I would look up to the sky and swear I could see a red nose burn bright—and if I looked closely enough, my little eyes squinting, I might even make out the outline of a sleigh.
I remember one Christmas Eve as I slept on a fold-out cot at my grandparent’s house, a sound on the roof awakened me. What was that? Did I hear footsteps? And … are those … bells? Christmas lights blinked upon the outside window, providing just enough light to detect the dark silhouette of furniture. The grandfather clock in the entry struck 2 am, and I lay there, listening. At that moment, I truly believed that a benevolent, bearded man stood in my grandparent’s living room, carefully arranging our Christmas gifts on the fireplace hearth.
“I don’t know how to say this,” a voice interrupts my reverie, “but I don’t really want to ‘do Santa’ with our kids.”
My hands instinctively go to my rounded belly, as if shielding the newly-formed ears growing there.
“You’re kidding, right? You can’t actually mean that?!” I snap back.
Keeping one eye on the road, he glances over at me earnestly. “Have I never told you this?”
I raise an eyebrow in response.
He turns back to the road and continues.
“When I found out that Santa wasn’t real, I had a ‘crisis of faith’ … I assumed that if my parents lied to me about Santa then they were lying about God too. It’s one of my strongest childhood memories.”
“Why am I just now hearing this?”
“I guess I’m just now thinking about it. I didn’t realize that Santa was so important to you.”
For a few years I put off the issue—partly because Ellie was too young for it to matter, but mostly because I hoped to win my husband over (which didn’t happen)—then last Christmas, when Ellie was four, I made a pathetic attempt to “do” Santa without “lying,” desperately clinging to the dream. I focused on teaching her the history of Saint Nicholas, and although this helped to develop a richer Santa narrative, come Christmas morning, it made little difference.
She’s still not sure who gave her that Anna dress.
My point here is not to debate whether “doing Santa” is good or bad, right or wrong—the truth is that after reading articles, blog posts, and even student essays (yes, I actually let my students weigh in on the issue), I still haven’t entirely made up my mind.
But after a bit of soul-searching, I know this: I want to honor my husband’s experience. It was real, and from what I’ve discovered, not entirely uncommon. So this year, my mission has been to dream up a magical Christmas memory for my young children that replaces the Santa tradition and allows Advent to remain central.
The task is twofold.
Firstly, to maintain the whimsy—the childhood magic—of the Christmas Santa tradition in a form that falls squarely in the realm of “pretend.” And Secondly, to use this new tradition to support a spirit of generosity, compassion, and kindness in my children.
So, without further ado, I introduce our new family tradition:
The Christmas Kindness Fairies
I want to give credit where it’s due. My dear friend gave me this idea a few months ago; she does it with “Christmas Mice.” Then I went on Pinterest and discovered these two similar concepts: Kindness Elves and The Christmas Angel. It seems that I’m not the first mother to run into this dilemma.
I chose fairies for three reasons:
1. My girls are fairy-obsessed.
2. We have established that fairies are legend/make-believe (along with unicorns and mermaids).
3. This means that no matter how much I play this up—we love make-believe in our house—my girls will deep-down know that it is all pretend.
So, why are the fairies visiting us? These particular fairies are concerned with keeping the kindness in Christmas, especially during the “12 Days of Christmas Kindness” (yes, I just made that up, then did a google search, and again realized that I wasn’t the first one). This is not the true liturgical holiday, but the 12 days leading up to Christmas—so that’s December 13th-24th.
Ellie loves singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” so I decided to play with it. For each of the “12 Days of Christmas Kindness” the fairies will leave a little note in which they suggest a daily “gift of kindness.” If you’re interested in following me on Instagram or Facebook, I plan to post the fairies’ notes each morning. It should be fun. Honestly, I’m quite giddy about the whole idea!
I’ve also created these cute cards to give to each recipient of our Christmas Kindness Gifts. Feel free to print them out and use them too!
It’s not too late to join us in celebrating the “12 Days of Christmas Kindness.” As for Ellie, she’s already counting down, because she knows that in three days, fairies are coming!