Santa is Satan to Welfare Mothers by Kirsten Anderberg
Santa is Satan to Welfare Mothers
By Kirsten Anderberg
Written November 2004
Nothing is worse than the collective dread all welfare mothers start feeling around now, with Christmas looming. Their young children are told at school, on TV, in stores, etc., that Santa Claus rewards good children with lavish gifts. And the better you are, the bigger the gifts you will receive. Kids are encouraged to write long lists of expensive things they want for Christmas to give to Santa, who is not confined by money concerns. (It is a marketing dream come true). The way young kids see it, it is the children's behavior that determines how expensive a gift Santa gives him, not limitations on Santa's budget. Welfare moms cannot explain that Santa cannot "afford" the gifts their kids are asking for on their Christmas lists.
I always liked Christmas as a kid, even though my parents were not religious. It was more a cultural thing, than a religious holiday. I liked the pretty lights and the family parties. Several years in a row we visited Santa and his live reindeer when I was young, so I felt I knew Santa's reindeer from quite young. I liked spending time with my mom making colorful cookies or handmade presents, with Christmas carols playing in the background. I looked forward to reading several books we took out only at Christmas, like Frosty, the Snowman. I also was intrigued by certain ornaments, such as a glittery village of houses and churches with cellophane stained glass windows, that I only saw at Christmas time.
My mom was more interested in the artsy side of Christmas than the consumer side. She and I made things for Christmas, we did not shop for presents. My grandma would knit us things, my grandpa would send us maple syrup he had made, along with his yearly subscription to Ranger Rick for me. I did not realize the consumeristic, or even the religious side, to Christmas until I was in my teens. In my teens I lived with my dad and stepmom and they bought clothing, primarily, as Christmas gifts. Nothing was handcrafted at their holidays. There was a purely consumeristic aspect to it, and it was not as fun as the cheaper, homemade Christmas' with my mom.
Then I became a mom. I wanted my son to enjoy the lights and carols and fun parts of Christmas, but knew as a welfare mom, I could not afford normal living expenses, so how would I afford presents? When my son was very young, I could kind of trick him. I convinced him that the decorations and pretty cookies and crafts we shared with friends were what Christmas was about. But in grade school, he'd come back from Christmas proud of some handmade thing, only to hear ¾ the class got Walkmans from Santa. And my son got jealous. And started to complain that he wanted Santa to give *him* a Walkman. I felt terrible. I could not get him expensive gifts, even though he *was* a good boy. It hurt. As a mom.
One year in particular killed me. We had no money at all. It had taken all I had to keep our rent and utilities paid. I just could not pull off Christmas. A florist shop in Eugene, Or. was throwing out a bunch of evergreen and holly bough remnants. There was a pile of scraps sitting next to the trash can at the curb. When I tried to pick up a few of these remnants, thinking I would make a small wreath to cheer us up, the florist began yelling and screaming at me that I had to drop her trash or she would call the police. This was 3 days before Christmas. At that point, I gave up on trying, I remember. I had to go through the local mall on the bus to get home from work daily. And once Christmas season hit, we took an extra 15 minutes just getting through the mall parking lot, due to all these shoppers, oblivious and frantic. It literally repulsed me. I just wanted to get home, away from them.
As my son got older, he came to understand our situation regarding Santa Claus. He came to see how excessive and obscene American consumer rituals of Christmas are. And one year in Los Angeles, he had some significant insights. Some friends of ours have all the material things my son has ever dreamed of. They have a house, with a yard, and a basketball hoop and a tether ball, and a pool. The kids have bikes, and skates, and video games…But at Christmas, my son watched one of these kids receive a beautiful electric train set that my son would have loved. When the child unwrapped the train set, his only response was that he wanted a blue one, not a red one and since it was red, he did not want it and he threw it at his grandmother. She said she would try to exchange it for him. My son was stunned. Then another one of these kids opened a present to reveal a radio-controlled hover craft. Again, a gift my son would have loved. The kid turned to the mom and said that he did not like it, and instead wanted the amount of money the hovercraft cost her, then and there, and she could return it later for her money. Again, my son was stunned. He came home and said he did not realize that when you are given so much material wealth, that you lost appreciation and gratitude. He became thankful for his humble roots, and his ability to be truly thankful and appreciative when given a gift.
"Even though we sometimes would not get a thing, we were happy with the joy the day would bring…" - Stevie Wonder. My son and I came to enjoy the lights, music, celebratory foods, and rituals we have around Christmas, void of all the religious and consumerist overtones. Even as an adult, he still likes to browse through our Christmas books collection every year for memories. Although he will never know what I went through some years to get him presents, I am glad he got the present of seeing his ability to appreciate others' kindness as valuable, through it all. That lesson was invaluable and could not be bought. Still, my heart goes out to all welfare moms during this season. Explaining the whole Santa thing in the context of America's huge class chasm, to a 5 year old, is a daunting task, indeed.
Kirsten Anderberg. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint/publish, please contact Kirsten at firstname.lastname@example.org.