Sasha’s “Twinkle Twos” ballet class always starts off the same way: The little girls (and one little) boy gather around the teacher, Miss Marie, who asks them each the Question of the Day. Often, it’s “What’s your favorite color?” (Sasha: “Purple.”) Once, it was “What’s your favorite drink?” (Sasha: “Purple.”) And the other day it was, perhaps predictably, “What did you ask Santa for?”
As Miss Marie went around the circle of toddlers, I tensed up. How would Sasha answer? After all, our family does not celebrate Christmas—I’m an atheist Jew, her mom’s a non-practicing Buddhist—and we’ve never told her about Santa Claus. Now her ballet teacher was phrasing this in a very personal way: What did you, Sasha, ask Santa to give you for Christmas?
When it came to her turn, Sasha answered well. “I want a nutcracker,” she said, having clearly picked up that the other kids were stating their basic desires.
Obviously, Sasha is not unaware of Christmas. You can’t walk down a Manhattan street in December, even in Chinatown, without seeing festive lights and Christmas trees, and Sasha’s toddler brain is captivated by the bright colors and unusual objects. There’s one apartment-building lobby we always pass by on the way home from preschool that she absolutely must stop at, to examine the tree inside. “Christmas!” she’ll excitedly yell, pointing.
In her mind, I think, “Christmas” and “Christmas tree” are interchangeable concepts. One is the other, and that’s because she has no real conception of Santa, or that the point of Christmas for most kids is that they get tons of presents. And she especially doesn’t know anything about the religious aspects of the holiday, if any still remain at this point in the history of late capitalism. This is how we like it, actually, and how we’re going to preserve it for at least another year. In fact, she’s going to miss out entirely on her classmates’ post-Christmas game of “Look what I got!” because we’re leaving town on Christmas Eve and not coming back for two weeks.
Essentially, we’re going to pretend Christmas doesn’t exist. Except when we don’t pretend. I mean, yesterday we were planning to take her to a tree-trimming party at a friend’s house! (Sasha’s midday meltdown persuaded us to stay home.) And when we are confronted with an actual tree, we’ll help her inspect it and advise her not to touch anything. (And then she’ll touch everything.) The other day I even heard Jean tell Sasha, “Santa Claus isn’t real,” which was an iffy move—both acknowledging that Christmas exists and arming her with dangerous knowledge.
“I don’t think she heard me,” Jean later said.
Except that Sasha is still given to saying things like “Where’s my Christmas? Where’s my Christmas?” Meaning, I believe, the tree, but the resonance of that cry echoes in my brain. Sasha, you ain’t getting a Christmas, even though your mother would be perfectly happy to have a tree to decorate. We just don’t do that. For now.