Some of you are going to think I'm Ebenezer Scrooge incarnate (before his change of heart) for writing this post. Before you put me in stocks for my controversial position on Santa Claus, I just want to say that we do give our kids Christmas presents, feed them regularly and let them out of their rooms at least once a month day. I mention this because we don't "believe" in Santa in our house and that admission, to some, is something akin to admitting child abuse.
Allison over at A Broken Fortress brought the topic up today and I was inspired to blog about it. So, if you are upset after reading this, I assure you that it's all her fault:).
This blog post should properly be titled:
Why we don't tell our kids that a fat, bearded man in a red suit brings presents down the chimney (or through the front door with a magic key or whatever) after riding across the world in a flying sleigh pulled by magical reindeer.
(I think that the title alone would bolster my case. At any rate, it wouldn't fit in the subject field.)
There are two primary reasons that we do not lie to our kids about Santa. The first is that we simply do not wish to lie to our children. The second is that the celebration of Santa has the potential to dilute the primary message of Christmas.
If you are a Christian parent, you know that every word that comes out of your mouth is a testimony to your child about the love and truth of Christ. You know from experience that your failures in virtue are soaked up into your little sponge children in the blink of an eye. You know how compromised your witness is by any uncharitable word, selfish behavior...and all deceitfulness. We know how much we abhor lies in our children and teach them to imitate Jesus who is the Way, the TRUTH, and the life. The game of pretending does indeed become a lie if it is intended to deliberately deceive for any extended period of time. When your little one looks trustingly up into your face and asks, "Mommy, is Santa really real?" and you say "Yes, He is", what acceptable justification is there for such a deception? It is likely that, someday, that same child will look at you and ask, "Mommy, is Jesus really real?" and you will say "Yes, He is." The child is asking for the truth and deserves purity in our responses. Our children need to know that we will not lie to them and must be able to trust our word in all things because we are their primary witness to love of Jesus Christ in their lives.
There are various common defenses of this lie. One is that it's a cultural tradition that is fun. Another more often used defense is that it causes no harm. These two explanations are generally used in conjunction. First, I disagree that fun is ever justification for deliberately breaking a Commandment of God. I will address the second defense below. It deserves it's own book because it deals with our obligation to give primacy to Jesus in every area of our lives.
One of the challenges that we face as a Christian people living in the world is that we are constantly being pulled off the path of holiness by the distractions of the world. We have faith but it waivers and fluctuates with the difficulties of life. We live according to our senses and reaching out to a hidden God is a struggle that even the greatest saints had to overcome and embrace.
A great temptation in our situation is to begin to see the Incarnation as a story that just comforts us and entertains us. But to make our faith living and relevant requires a maturity and a love that steps out of that comfortable place. If our faith in the reality of God becoming man becomes simply a "story" for us, we fall into immediate peril of losing it. We know this temptation and danger is real for our children. If we knew of a danger to their faith wouldn't we go to significant lengths to defend them from it?
Santa is not evil. Santa makes kids smile and laugh and makes for a fun and interesting story. But since the story is not necessary for either a productive or happy life, it's worth examining how much weight we give it and if the lie is worth the possibility of subverting the power of the Nativity to the story of a fictional man.
During Christmas time, there are two stories that thrive side by side. One is the Nativity story. The other is the story of Santa Claus. If we place a similar significance and emphasis on both of them and spend an equal (or disproportionate large) amount of time on the pretend story; and if we look straight into the eyes of our children and lie believably and habitually about reality of Santa, then we are running a very real risk of compromising the power of the love of Christ in the minds and hearts of our children.
I know many families who are able to nourish a very real and deep faith in their children and who also lie to them about Santa. I also know my own experience of life without that deception and I highly recommend it. I know that many Americans simply cannot imagine that Christmas can be "fun" without Santa but the experience of my family and others bears testimony to the joy, beauty and FUN of a Christmas wholly centered on Christ. We don't lose anything. We gain because we are free to devote ourselves entirely to preparation for His birthday. Other advantages include:
**The freedom from pressure to have Santa-sized (similar to "super-sized") gifts under the tree. The children know that all presents are from mom, dad and siblings and their gratitude is properly directed. They also know that mom and dad have limited and fluctuating resources and are content even during "skinnier" years.
**Being free from the pressure of having to pay money for our children to sit on the lap of a mall employee.
**The look on the face of the WalMart cashier when she discovers that my 5-year old does not think Santa is real. I feel a bit naughty about this one but it is rather funny to hear a 50-year old woman debate a 5-year old about the existence of Santa. My favorite explanation from my 5-year old was to an elderly grocery store bagger:
"Santa isn't real but sometimes we play that he is. St. Nicholas was real but his feast day is on a different day. But that's who Santa used to be. Jesus' birthday is the funnest and mommy and daddy buy us presents. And I really like Christmas Mass when we sing Silent Night with all the lights off. And then we go to Grandma's house. Both of them. And we sing Happy Birthday!"
The look on the bagger's face was of utter shock and dismay. He replied, "But you must believe in Santa! I do!" And we got the silent treatment for the remainder of our time in his line.
Guess he missed his point.
I think that we can incorporate our cultural traditions into our domestic churches without compromising Christ. I doubt we can do it as well as we ought if we think that deceit is a prerequisite for joy.