“Why does Santa miss some kids?”

The then Four-Year-Old inspecting her work on Santa’s landing pad last Christmas Eve. (Photo: Shala Howell)

We are a Santa family. By which I mean that we are fully invested in pretending Santa is real–for the time being. We haven’t picked a quit date yet, but now that my daughter’s five, I guess we are going to have to. On the other hand, she’s in school now, so it won’t be long until external forces impose a quit date on us.

For the most part, it’s been fun to believe in Santa again. I like helping The Five-Year-Old make Santa’s snack plate (which always includes carrots for Rudolph) on Christmas Eve and then checking in the morning to see if Santa and Rudolph have eaten any. I like helping The Five-Year-Old write letters to Santa (which always start off by thanking him for the presents the year before. We’re not timely thank you note writers, but you have to start somewhere). I like leaving notes by the fireplace on the years we travel directing Santa to our Christmas vacation spot. And I loved drawing a huge parking space in the sand the year we went to Panama City Beach, so that Santa would know where to leave his reindeer when he arrived to make the drop.

But when it comes to explaining to The Five-Year-Old why we donate to Toys for Tots every Christmas, life gets trickier.

Colonel William L. Hendricks, USMCR (Retired), founder of the Toys for Tots program. (Photo via the Toys for Tots website)

Toys for Tots began in 1947 when Diane Hendricks gave her husband Major Bill Hendricks USMCR a handmade doll and asked him to donate it to a charity that would give it to a needy child for Christmas. Major Hendricks couldn’t find a single agency that donated toys to children, so he started his own. Over the years, the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program has delivered more than 452 million toys to more than 209 million children. This year, in addition to their usual charitable efforts, they are taking up a special collection for the children affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Our family donates to Toys for Tots every year. Typically, we take The Five-Year-Old with us to buy the toys that we drop off at the local Toys for Tots collection station. So when I learned that Build-a-Bear was holding its annual Stuffed with Hugs event a few weeks ago, I thought it would be a perfect time for The Five-Year-Old to perform a random act of charity. And since the bear would go to Toys for Tots, a program with which she is already familiar, I figured she would have few questions, if any, about it.

Sadly, no.

The Five-Year-Old was highly enthused about going to Build-a-Bear to stuff a teddy bear, but much less enthused about giving that bear away. The usual questions and negotiations arose. You know the drill. You’ve probably had this very same conversation with your own kids.

I certainly have. I was well into my stock response that we need Toys for Tots because not everyone is as lucky as we are, and there are kids in the world who might not get any presents at all if it weren’t for groups like Toys for Tots, when The Five-Year-Old swatted me with this:

“I thought Santa brought presents to all the children. Why does he miss those kids?”

Gentle Reader, I had nothing to say for 45 very long seconds. I was on the verge of disavowing Santa entirely when I remembered my version of the Easter Bunny story. For one reason or another, this spring I didn’t feel like sneaking around the house with jelly beans and chocolate, so I told The Five-Year-Old that Elvis, the wild rabbit who lives in our yard, works for the Easter Bunny, and that Elvis had appointed me to prepare the baskets for our family on behalf of the Easter Bunny.

The Five-Year-Old immediately wanted to be on the Easter Bunny’s team too, so I deputized her and that was that. When we finished the job, we left a note and some carrots out for Elvis to let him know that we’d done our part. Presumably he relayed the report to the Easter Bunny, because the next morning the carrots were gone and I didn’t see the Easter Bunny on our street this year.

I decided to take a similar tack with Santa. I explained to The Five-Year-Old that there is so much need in the world that it’s not right to sit back and expect one man to do all the work for us. We all have to do our part.

That explanation seems to be holding for now. Certainly, The Five-Year-Old seemed to have no trouble stuffing the bear and dropping it in the Toys-for-Tots bin. But while I enjoy all the little games around Santa and the Easter Bunny, and I will be sorry to see them go, it sure is much harder to teach your child that it’s important to care for others when your child’s world is populated by magical beings who are perfectly capable of doing all that work on their own.

How do/did you handle this question with the kids in your life?

About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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2 Responses to “Why does Santa miss some kids?”

  1. susan says:

    I have chosen not to deal with Santa. Selam believes because people around her believe. I take her lead. But I try to keep it as low key as possible, because the first time I read the story about all the good little boys and girls, my eyes fell on a framed photo of her with her friends from the orphanage and I thought…..I can’t do this. I couldn’t burst the bubble either, so I just hang low, try to limit without banning….fortunately, I’m from a low-key Santa family. Santa brings one gift and fills stockings. Everything else is from people we know and thank. I think if I were in your spot, I might say that you’re donating toys so the children’s parents can give them one….and just leave Santa out of it. But your mileage will vary.


  2. Pingback: Insightful things The Five-Year-Old says at 8:59 a.m. | CATERPICKLES

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