DEAR MISS MANNERS: As a child, I was raised knowing that Santa Claus was not real, and the "True Meaning of Christmas" was always emphasized. I received plenty of Christmas gifts from my parents and grandparents and was every bit as excited as any other child, although I knew they did not come from a jolly man at the North Pole.
My husband and I have chosen not to accentuate Santa Claus to our 2-year-old son, either.
I come into situations each holiday season where people automatically assume that my son's gifts came from Santa and proceed to ask him or me about it. Although he doesn't quite understand yet, I would like to have a polite response when I am questioned about the origin of the gifts.
I have been told such things as I am "ruining the magic of Christmas" for my child and some have even gone so far as to say that I am a "bad mother."
As I am starting to dread the holiday season, could you please tell me how to politely explain that this is how we have chosen to raise our child, and I know from personal experience that Christmas will not lose any of its magic or joy simply by the omission of a mythical man from the North Pole?
GENTLE READER: The holidays are always going to be mighty hard for you -- and eventually for your son -- if you keep turning idle chatter into theological debates.
Not that Miss Manners excuses people who challenge your childrearing or that she wishes to do so herself. She only suspects that you may be provoking others unnecessarily.
Miss Manners very much doubts that the subject comes up because these people, rude though they may turn out to be, are conducting an inquisition to see which toddlers truly believe. More likely, they meant to engage your son by asking what he wants or has received from Santa Claus.
"Nothing" is not a good answer. It will only lead to undesirable discussions. And if you think you have a difficult time with adults over this, imagine what he will encounter when he attempts to deal with the question among his little peers.
You don't want him challenging children who do believe in Santa Claus.
At least Miss Manners hopes not. That would turn him into a junior version of just the sort of proselytizing busybody of whom you complain.
The reality is that the Santa Claus concept is so thoroughly a part of the American Christmas that you must accept its presence in holiday chatter.
Presumably your son knows about fictional characters and the fondness people have for them from the stories you read him. So explain to him -- and remind yourself -- that "Santa Claus" is a character many people use as a way of talking about Christmas presents.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was taught that it is bad manners to state "I'm full" at the end of the meal. My husband comes from a northern family, and he wants to know why it is considered in poor taste. I have tried to explain it to him, but my explanations are inadequate. Could you help me?
GENTLE READER: It is in poor taste for the very reason that it works: It brings to mind the picture of what happens when you put more into something that is already full.