The Santa Claus Myth or Pretend Play On A Grand Scale


~ from December 2013 delay due to storm

Johnny loves Christmas and loves Santa Claus.  He loves it when all the Christmas lights go up and the decorations.  He loves all the textures and the colours and how festive everything gets. He loves seeing all the different coloured Christmas lights and how people use them. I have seen blogs recently talking about the idea of perpetuating the myth of Santa Claus and the pros and cons of doing so. I admit I never thought of NOT sharing the fun pretend game of Santa with my children and showing them the power of believing in things.   When Johnny was non-verbal I didn’t let it stop me from doing the Christmas traditions and feeling like I was talking to myself not knowing what he understood.  I plodded ahead anyway like I do everything hoping that with everything he learns, that with repetition and maturity he will be part of it.

When you think about it, its a relatively short time of experiencing the magic of seeing them look in wonder when they see the cookies and milk they put out the night before as a treat for Santa gone except for the little crumbs on the plate.   I fondly remember  when Johnny was four,  he decided that Santa should have “his” favourite foods so he had Daddy put a slice of buttered toast on a plate with 2 slices of parmigiano reggiano cheese.   I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on Johnny’s idea of what he thinks he should share with Santa.

I think the myth of Santa and seeing what adults will do generation after generation is the ultimate pretend play but on a grand scale and is not “lying” to our children.  One of the big things you hear when you are raising an autistic child is you are told you need to engage your child in pretend imaginative play and as adults we often fail to engage in this.  I listen to my 3-1/2 year old daughter pretend to be a princess every day and tell me very elaborate stories about what she has done the day before with her dolls in all seriousness when we both know she was in school the day before.  Do I correct her or do I go along with her story and role playing and engage in her imaginative play?  I remember having to work so hard to  see if Johnny would take his favourite stuffed animal and brush it’s teeth, have a tea party for his teddy bears, role play and be a fireman for the afternoon etc and how I felt the first time he smiled and brushed his stuffed monkey’s teeth or dressed Winnie the Pooh in clothes because “he needs pants Mommy.”

The other way of looking at the myth of Santa is its a shared right of passage with children at this age.    If I want Johnny to feel accepted at school with his peers then I need to try and teach him these traditions to further peer to peer bonding.  I know I did the right thing when Johnny’s friend at school rushed over to us to hand Johnny his letter from Santa that the teacher was handing out to the kids.

“Johnny…’s your letter from Santa!!!!! It really is! See the stamp it’s from the North Pole and if you touch it then you touch something that Santa touched! Wow!”

The little boy was in ernest and his face was full of wonder and the magic of Christmas and was sharing with Johnny.   Johnny smiled back and looked his friend in the eye and said “thank you.”

I had tears in my eyes because his Daddy and I have worked so hard to help Johnny engage and interact with everyone and especially children and to know what’s expected at any given moment.  For a few precious seconds he had a moment with another child.

Did my view on Christmas and Santa change when I realized my son was Autistic and until recently non-verbal?  No because I decided that I would introduce Christmas traditions just like I do all traditions to him as part of the grander routine of the whole year.  Seasons, birthdays, and holidays give life meaning, are when moments happen that we treasure and are also reference points and anchors in life. They always happen at the same time year after year after year and give a sense of the expected.    Another birthday will come, Christmas will come, winter is here but soon the trees will have leaves again and it will be warm again.  Johnny finds change hard so when holidays and seasons come and go its a change that is predictable that he is slowly finding that he can handle.   My son craves order and routine and wants to have a sense of control over his environment so he seems to like to know that there are things in life that are set in stone.  In his way he told me this when I began to decorate the tree.

“Mommy…..where are the yellow ornaments? (He means gold.) Where are the red balls? Mommy still has them.? ”

Yes I do sweetie.

“We will put up the Christmas lights Mommy.”

Yes sweetie.

We did put up all of our decorations and he remembered which order I like to put things out and noticed if I brought out new things.  I am so glad that we never let Autism stop us from sharing all of our traditions with Johnny.


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