How magical to be free of Santa cynicism
I took my daughter to David Jones to sit on Santa's knee this week.
Like most toddlers, she screamed hysterically at the sight of the fat bearded man in the red suit in the flesh, but that's not the point.
Apparently I am part of a diminishing breed.
A Griffith University academic claims visits to shopping centre Santas have dropped off noticeably this festive season, supposedly because working parents don't have the time for such daggy rituals.
Others despise the custom.
According to one Brisbane columnist, there are two types of people in the world: "those who take their children to visit the shopping centre Santa, and normal people". In this mother's eyes "shopping centre Santas are simply a cynical marketing bid by retailers to get us to spend more money".
Which is probably true.
Santa Claus has become so commoditised. Once upon a time meeting Santa in real life meant dressing up in your childhood best for the big trip into town to one of the major department stores. Now Santa is everywhere - even at suburban Harvey Normans.
I still remember my first Santa session. Every year my 80-something-year-old grandmother gamely took all 12 grandchildren to Roselands shopping centre in Sydney's south-west for a day of Christmas shopping.
The first time I was included in this tradition I told Santa I wanted the "whole of Strawberry Shortcake world". Needless to say he didn't deliver even one piece of Strawberry Shortcake frippery on December 25.
Yet I didn't hold this disappointment against Santa. As an adult I still consider paying a visit to the man from the North Pole an essential part of the countdown to Christmas, on par with opening the advent calendar, decorating the tree, and secretive present wrapping sessions.
And as my daughter's comprehension gradually increases, I want her to experience all the excitement of Christmas anticipation for herself.
That's the great thing about being a parent. You get to experience the innocent joy of these childhood rituals all over again, but with the added awareness of how magical it is to be free of cynicism.
I can see that the Santa visit probably does become less about wonderment and more about "I want" as children get older. But right now, my daughter is at the wonder stage, just pleased with herself that she can recognise "San-ta" in pictures and shop windows. She's yet to realise he's also the guy who is supposed to deliver her a sack of goodies on Christmas morning.
It irks me to read all these predictable bah humbug columns intent on hacking away at the enchantment of Christmas, deriding it as corny, commercial and crass.
We each choose how much commercialism we succumb to at Christmas. I have a friend whose family didn't give any presents to each other one year, and another year made donations to charity instead.
Equally we can choose where to find our own meaning in Christmas. You can put effort into imaginative gifts for loved ones without feeling burdened by expectation. You can enjoy visiting Santa and not fork out for the overpriced photos. You can bring up your children to compose long present wishlists but be content with whatever Christmas Day brings.
As for my daughter, after her initial trauma she deigned to sit next to Santa - albeit on the safety of my lap. And she was so proud of her bravery she clapped her hands excitedly for the photo, which is now her favourite new toy.
Cosima Marriner is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald Brisbane correspondent.