Santa Spirit
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Santa Spirit

Santa’s COVID Holiday Gifting Strategies

COVID is causing a gift-dilemma his holiday season. Many people have lost their jobs or had their jobs cut and money is tight. Thousands of people have been sick or lost their loved-ones. We are afraid to get together with family and friends because we don’t know who, when, or where we could get exposed to the virus. We may not have money to go buy children's December holiday presents, or if we do we may not feel comfortable shopping at the store. The question about whether Santa Claus is coming this year plagues many parents as a result.

But as Francis Church observed in his famous 1897 New York Sun letter, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa, “How dreary would be the world if there was no Santa”.

As a Santaologist, I’d like to recommend easy ways to keep Santa joyfully alive for children while taking the pressure off of parents. Part of children’s holiday fun comes from the anticipation around Santa’s arrival. We can nurture delight by creating magic and excitement around his coming that doesn’t have to cost a penny. The problem that many parents face is the expectation that Santa is “supposed” to bring a sleigh-full of presents to each and every child.

But in my research on him, this is not correct. It’s time to shift that narrative. Santa’s sack and sleigh are supposed to contain presents for all the children of the world. This logically means that if everyone is to get something, the things Santa brings must be small enough to fit into a stocking or shoe. Original Santa gifts were small toys, hand-made items, sweets, and small things aimed to delight younglings.

Imagine — what if there was a Santa Stocking Pact among parents that in their family, school or community that Santa would only deliver presents in children’s stockings? If children learned to expect that Santa only brought presents that would into stockings, it would enable most parents to afford keeping Santa around. A Santa-stocking focus would eliminate much of the social class variation associated with the big guy that results in poor children feeling left out or deprived.

If mom and dad, or granny and uncle want to give bikes or ponies or computers, they can do so — but such presents are from them, not Santa. Elves don’t make high-tech items or things that can be returned at the store if they break or don’t fit. Having expensive and big presents “from Mom” instead of “from Santa” would recontextualize Santa and help parents avoid pressure to lie or make up stories about why Santa gives more presents to some children than others.

So let’s talk about the kinds of presents that we could give one another, especially during days of COVID. While we hope all will be well, the pandemic is such that we have no assurance that we will all see another Christmas so we better make sure what we give one another is meaningful.

Gift-giving is a thoughtful gesture. Most people like getting presents. We have a choice about the types of gifts we want to give children or each other. Children’s gifts, or gifts in general, can be classified into several categories.

Gifts of Becoming. These are gifts designed to help the child explore new aspects of themselves, to develop some skill or trait, or to provide them with dreams that they may one day seek to make real. Examples of these could be sports equipment, music lessons, art supplies, or a camera. Another example is giving homeless children backpacks full of new school supplies so they can be successful.

Gifts of Delight. The emphasis of these gifts is to provide joy. Children are given these types of gifts with the hope that they will have fun. Such gifts include candy and sweets to eat, toys to play with, books to read, music to listen to, or games to play. On the surface, Gifts of Delight could be seen as frivolous but many can be learning tools. A computer game can teach hand-eye coordination, problem-solving skills, or create a sense of imagination and adventure. The gifts don’t necessarily cause the delight; it is what the gifts evoke in us that makes them fun.

Gifts of Doing give the child the opportunity to do something special, often with family members or friends. Gifts of Doing can be simple, like doing something together that we have been meaning to do but never seem to find the time for. We could spend time playing their favorite game, going hiking or to the beach, or somewhere the child has always wanted to go.

Gifts of Necessity are not necessarily exciting, but they can provide a child with absolute relief, which can ultimately be joyful. They can include things like new shoes or glasses, a bus pass, or something that they need on a regular basis but can’t afford. With payphones being a thing of the past, a cellphone can be a necessity to keep someone safe. A computer can help a student to succeed.

Gifts of Bonding. Giving other people gifts is a way to create a relationship with them. It lets them know you care. Often it doesn’t matter what the gift it — it is the thought that counts. When we receive gifts, it conveys the message that we are unique, special, and deserving people.

Gifts of Forgiveness. We all do things that we regret and we look for ways to make things right. Sometimes it is hard to say the words or get the meanings across, especially to people who have closed down and are resistant. Sometimes a holiday gift means that we are sorry, with hopes it will warm their soul and enable them to open their hearts.

Reciprocal Gifts. If someone gives you a gift, there is often the expectation that you’re supposed to give one to them in return. This is a problem for people who are financially strapped. It is especially problematic for children, who generally do not have money of their own and can’t go out and purchase gifts that are of equal monetary value. Being thoughtful about how to gift someone is important; downsizing the gift or giving symbolic presents that don’t cost money is often kinder.

Gifts For Others. Often what we want aren’t things for ourselves but for others. Toys-for-Tots is an example of such a program designed to make sure children who come from economically distressed homes get presents. Donating to charitable causes, feeding the birds, singing outside the windows of the nursing home are other examples.

Gifts of Unconditional Love are of utmost importance. Children appreciate receiving gifts that have “no strings attached.” Relatives, friends or Santa, may give you a gift just because you are wonderful. We are not required to do anything special for it; children get gifts because they ARE special.

This COVID Christmas season could be dreary indeed without Santa bringing some joy and lightness to the burden that we are all carrying. Santa can be a fine role model of how adults ought to share loving-kindness and teach children that they deserved to be cared for and beloved, not for what they do, but just because they are. Creating Santa Spirit magic doesn’t have to cost and thing but can be worth everything, especially to weary hearts longing to know we are loved.

For more information on this, check out Dr. Vissing’s books: The Santa Spirit Advent Calendar Book: COVID edition, the Legend of the Santa Stocking, and other books described at santalove.org or on Amazon.

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