The holidays are such a wonderful time. There are friends, family, tons of cookies, and best of all, presents from our loved ones. It is that time of the year when kids patiently wait for a fat man with a white beard to somehow squeeze down their chimney and bring them tons of gifts. Parents work really, really hard to make sure their kids are buying the entire thing; even this little elf-on-the-shelf guy, which I never even heard of until about two years ago. It is such a good old-fashioned American tradition that people always look at me like I have three heads when I tell them I didn’t grow up believing in their dear old white-bearded fat man.
That’s right. I have never believed in Santa Claus. And no, I didn’t have a sad childhood. I didn’t really miss out on anything, and I’ve grown bored of people assuming I did. The only thing I missed out on was the opportunity for my parents to lie to me, which they made up for later on, so don’t worry.
In the country where my parents are from, the Dominican Republic, parents don’t tell children stories about Santa Claus. So for my parents, this nationwide obsession with a made-up man that came into your house to bring gifts was really kind of ridiculous. Ditto for the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. When I got Christmas gifts, I knew exactly which tia or tio got them for me. I was just as happy getting those gifts as the other kids were about getting gifts from Santa. Only instead of thinking about how much Santa must love me, or how good I’d been that year, I thought: Wow, my mom must really love me, she got me just what I wanted!
For my entire childhood, I was the girl who didn’t believe in Santa Claus. It wasn’t because I was more mature than any of my friends. I was just the weird one. Even though my parents are Dominican, I was born and raised here, so all of my friends believed in him. Therefore, it was confusing for me to try to figure out why I was the only one who didn’t, and why I was the only kid who opened up her gifts at midnight on the 24th. It’s a strange middle ground you live in when you’re a first generation American. You have to balance two different cultures, customs, and traditions. It’s all very confusing.
This year I spent Christmas with a traditionally American, white, middle-class family who had always celebrated the holiday as such. It included doing nothing special on Christmas Eve. Then I woke up to an overly exuberant eight-year-old opening gifts at 7am. We had a lavish and plentiful Christmas dinner, which was followed by party hopping for dessert. It was an interesting time, and also the complete opposite of the festive and boozy Christmas Eve parties that I’m used to. But it was a lovely time nonetheless.
Even though waking up at 7 a.m. on my day off is not my idea of fun, the pure joy on the face of a child who believes in Santa is priceless. The overwhelming excitement was contagious. To me, it was spectacular because I’ve never experienced it before. Yet, I also could not help but miss my family’s customs. I missed the Christmas Eve feast. I missed the music and the dancing, and I missed my traditions.
In the Dominican Republic, my parents celebrated Dia De Los Très Reyes Magos or Three King’s Day. It is a custom that celebrates the revelation and baptism of baby Jesus with a huge feast and gifts.
By the time my youngest brother was born, twelve years after me, my parents had given in to new American traditions and forgotten about Dia De Los Très Reyes Magos. They didn’t want their children to be singled out anymore, so they started labeling my youngest brother’s Christmas gifts so he would believe Santa brought it to him. Over a short period of time in my life, traditions have changed. In my family, we continue to blend both the American traditions, like Santa, and our Dominican ones, like opening gifts at midnight on Christmas Eve whilst tipsy.
This year I learned something very important. Not only is it okay, it is better than okay to blend traditions and come up with your own as well. The fact is that I am a first generation Latina living in America. I hope if I ever have kids, I can successfully blend both of my cultures and traditions, and that they too might believe in Santa. So no, Santa does not have to exist, but I like that he does.