December in our house is all about the Elf on the Shelf. Percy, as our Elf is known, arrives to much anticipation. The children buy into the magic that he brings and I work hard to make it magic for them but it begs the question ‘is it all too much?’ Am I setting them up for a huge fall when they realize that none of this is real? Will they hate me for creating such a powerful all-consuming imaginary world once they understand that it’s not real?
I know I am not alone amongst parents in trying to outdo oneself with Elf ideas and I love seeing my children’s faces as they discover Percy each morning. They write notes and leave him pictures; my daughter in particular takes it all very seriously. This year they acquired a magic reindeer, which they have to love as much as possible to give Father Christmas extra magic for flying on Christmas Eve. I know that my 8 year old is on the cusp of not believing; she asks more challenging questions and hears what her friends are saying. I feel that I need to be making it more magic so she remembers this as an adult, but I also need to be ready to help her with the transition from not believing to understanding.
So, how do we prepare for that moment when our children find out that Father Christmas isn’t real? Do you remember finding out? I don’t, not even slightly. So is that because I was quite young when I found out so didn’t mind; or was it just kept low key; or did my parents simply not buy into ‘building’ a bit of magic around Father Christmas so it was not so far to fall once I knew the truth. I’ve asked my parents but helpfully they have no recollection at all so I’m none the wiser. Perhaps my father’s childhood experience influenced him to be more low-key with me. His big brother, fed up of all fuss his little brother was getting, decided to set him straight. My father was about 5 or 6 years old and his brother was mid-teens.
But it brings me back to my children; I have done some reading over the last year or two for ideas about managing children’s expectations regarding this issue. Some people seem to think you should just be honest, don’t dress it up, some people suggest telling children before they find out so that you can control it completely. My favourite thought (which I can’t find now so apologies to the person who wrote this) was to acknowledge that yes, Father Christmas isn’t real in the sense that they believed he was but that there is a very special adult secret which only children who are grown up enough can be told about.
The concept of Father Christmas exists as grown-ups the world over want to spread the magic that St. Nicholas originally started by secretly gifting presents to children; they recognize the satisfaction of gifting a secret Santa present to someone without expecting any reward other then knowing they have done something kind, fun, thoughtful.
I love the idea of bringing children into the big secret and encouraging them to do something kind for someone else without expecting anything in return. This for my daughter is an idea that will work very well; she loves taking on the role of ‘grown-up’ to her little brother and knowing something he doesn’t know will be a great satisfaction to her and I know she will buy into the great nightly Elf move.
It also buys into a less selfish philosophy which I am all for encouraging these days. If, when adults, my children look back on their childhood, I hope they realize that they not only had parents who loved and cherished them with a little bit of Christmas magic, but they also learnt a great life lesson – give with love and no expectation of anything in return. I drive myself up the wall positioning Percy each night because I love to see their faces every day. It really is as much for me as it is for the children. So go forward and Elf happily, but be prepared for what happens next.