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  • Writer's pictureJill Devine

The year without a Santa Claus

Christmas feels a little different this year. There’s noticeably less magic in the air at my house. I’ve been dreading this year for awhile, because, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m someone who tends to dread the end of a journey rather than enjoying the ride, so, with each passing year, I’ve felt us inching closer and closer to the inevitable. Along with everything else 2020 has dealt us, it also marks the end of an era. This will be the first year in our 12+ years of parenting without Santa Claus.

Santa actually had a long run in our home. At 12 and 10, my kids believed longer than my husband and I did as kids. I’m thankful for all of the excitement Santa has infused into our lives all these years, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little sad about it.

I sulked a little as I dragged out the boxes of decorations and ornaments. I teared up a bit as homemade Christmas crafts, Polar Express ticket stubs and photos on Santa’s lap made their annual appearance. But after giving my feelings time to run their course, I decided it was time to move forward with this next phase of the most wonderful time of the year. Here’s how I’m planning to celebrate with my double-digit kiddos.

1. Santa Claus is still coming to town. When we had the big talk about Kris Kringle, I told my boys that the Santa experience isn’t over. I’m still hiding gifts, wrapping them in special Santa wrapping paper and signing the tags with Santa’s name in the Santa handwriting I’ve fine-tuned over the last decade. They’re still going to go to bed with empty stockings and nothing under the tree and wake up to presents and goodies that magically appeared while they slept. My 10-year-old was so thrilled when I explained that we were going to continue to play Santa for them and the smile on his little freckled face made me so happy. My parents kept up with Santa, basically until my siblings and I were all married and out of the house and we loved every second of it. Keeping Santa around in this way gives kids permission to have fun and enjoy the spirit of Christmas, even if they think they’re too old for it.

2. Focusing on traditions that we love most. Every parent knows that the Christmas season can get out of hand with traditions to keep up and obligations to fulfill. But if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that filling our calendars with activities isn’t really how we want to live. We’re carrying that lesson into our post-Santa Christmas experience and just focusing on the things we love most about this time of year. I asked my kids to each tell me their favorite holiday activity (ice skating and watching Christmas movies together, in case you were wondering) and that’s what we’re going to make sure we cross off the holiday bucket list. Without all of the self-inflicted pressure to keep up the magical illusion of Santa, I’m focused on simplifying this hectic time of year.

3. Finding room for new traditions. As our kids continue to grow and change, it only makes sense that our traditions may change. That can be really hard, because as parents, we want to give our kids these perfect childhood memories, and often that means we want things to be the same every year. We put pressure on ourselves to live up to expectations that are more based on what we as parents want, not necessarily what our kids want. I saw this idea of changing traditions work successfully in my own family growing up. Once I was old enough to drive, I used to take my younger sister and brother to the movies on Christmas Eve. The purpose of this outing was to give my parents some time to get presents wrapped for my brother, who still believed in Santa at the time, but he thought it was just a fun holiday activity. That annual trip to the movies was something we looked forward to and we made priceless memories that will still talk about to this day. As my siblings and I got older and had families of our own, we ditched the traditional Christmas Eve get together and early Christmas morning gatherings in favor of a fabulous Christmas brunch my mom puts together every year. We love this new tradition even though we didn’t grow up with it.

With that in mind, I’m pushing myself to be open to incorporating new experiences into the holidays this year. For us, this will be the first year we’ll let the boys stay up later on Christmas Eve to eat cookies and watch movies, without the rush to get them to bed so the toy assembly and secret present wrapping can begin. We’re also having them actually use their hard-earned allowance to buy real gifts for each other, which I’m really excited about. In the past we’ve funded a trip to the dollar store to get little sibling gifts, but this year they’re taking the time to think about what their brother really wants and then saving to purchase that item from their own savings. I can’t wait to see what new moments and opportunities for updated traditions arise as we navigate our first year post-Santa.

So to those of you experiencing your first year without a Santa Claus, I hope you find these coping methods helpful. And to those of you still enjoying the magic of Christmas through little eyes, soak up every moment, but know that even after the Santa phase is over, there are still new memories to be made.

Afton Spriggs is a working mom of two boys, Jude and Beckett. She and her husband, Ryan, are lifelong Metro-East residents. Afton spent most of her career working in digital content for traditional media companies (TV news, magazine and radio) and now works at a digital marketing agency in St. Louis. She loves sports, trying new recipes and traveling.

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