Each year, a new crop of young mothers must sort out what on earth to do with a myriad of decisions. Feeding. Sleeping. Vaccines. And schooling to name a few. There are countless opinions available on those subjects and they must wade through the subjective sludge to find their place to stand – hopefully with some degree of confident clarity. One important decision that doesn’t get much air time is the Santa decision. As a result of limited discussion on the matter, young parents often default into the majority opinion with little thought and then wonder, a few years in, what on earth they have done. Since there are always new mothers as we head into every Christmas season, and since I’m away this week in the middle of our little Flourish motherhood series (thanks to the delightful generosity of my parents-in-law!), I wanted to send this your way in hopes that it may inform your decision if early parenting is the season of life you find yourself in, or so that you can pass it along to encourage someone who is.
I take no delight in stirring up trouble.
But since everything we do and don’t do as parents teaches our children, I feel compelled to express a few thoughts on the matter of presenting the Santa Claus fantasy as fact to our children. This I do with the single aim of encouraging new moms, who have not yet chosen how they will handle the prevailing Western Christmas tradition, to approach the decision intentionally and strategically instead of merely accepting the prevalent position because “everyone is doing it”. If you don’t fall within this target audience, you are hereby absolved of any duty to continue reading!
I am NOT addressing my Christian friends who have promoted the reality of Santa to their children. The grace we have received from Christ enables us to extend much grace to each other in areas where we may disagree. And since you’ve already headed in that direction, my preemptive encouragements won’t be of much value to you. If you choose to read on anyway, please don’t send me nasty letters because as much as I love you, I’m not writing this for you.
I am NOT addressing my non-Christian friends or encouraging you to adopt convictions about celebrating a God you do not worship. Though I’d be most happy to introduce you to Him at any time, you can stop reading here. If you are curious, you are welcome to keep reading, but don’t launch any snowballs in my direction on the school yard because, though I adore you too, I’m not writing for you either.
With that established, let us begin.
In our home, we are lovers of things whimsical and imaginative. If you were privy to the worlds, songs, stories, vehicles, plays and art created within our walls, you would be convinced that creativity and childlike fantasy are alive and well in our household. And we certainly don’t hate Santa. We understand the fictional character’s creation as rooted in the self-sacrificing benevolence of the legendary St. Nicholas. We watch the vintage Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer special and hum along in the mall to Santa Claus is Coming to Town, creepy as it is.
But in a culture that indiscriminately and fanatically elevates the North Pole-living, elf-employing, omniscient Santa from fantasy to fact, allow me to explain why we don’t.
- It lacks historical foundation and moral benefit.
The Western Santa Claus “tradition” is a historically recent phenomenon concocted within the last few centuries from a smattering of legend, a pinch of history and a plethora of imaginations. It is not a tradition with rich historical or moral heritage, thereby rendering it void of instructive remembrance and societal benefits. Throughout history, holidays had reasons and were anchored on momentous occasions as memorials to something we dare not forget. I wonder what our forefathers would think of our divorcing such a massive holiday from anything of historical or moral significance and instead affixing it to an ever-developing character of our own imaginations? A character that requires billions of entertainment and consumer dollars, as well as a myriad of deceptions, to keep afloat. I dare say that they would call into question our rationality.
- It sets children up for certain but unnecessary disappointment.
This broken world will disappoint our children enough during their time in it. It seems illogical to us that we would manufacture our own premeditated disappointment and voluntarily serve it to them. I have heard story after story of the heart wrenching disillusionment and tears at the moment a child learns that Santa is not who he was presented to be. And once that first childhood demi-god falls from glory, the Easter Bunny & Tooth Fairy come tumbling after in a cascade of confusing disappointment.
Let’s also address the matter of embarrassment if a child has bought the charade for longer than the rest. All of our girls on separate occasions have expressed gratitude over our not misleading them about Santa, for many reasons. One being their dignity. One daughter thanked us profusely within the last couple years because she felt great compassion for her friend who still believed Santa was real, and defended him publicly to her future embarrassment.
And let’s consider the implication for underprivileged children throughout North America and the world: If taught the reality of Santa when there is no church or foundation close by to bail him out, the only logical outcome is despondency. Like my dad for example, who grew up in a poor family on Canada’s east coast. Try as he might, year after year, he couldn’t make the “nice” list. Santa hadn’t come. Again. Christmas reinforced for him what he felt to be true: He was unworthy. Unlike other children, my dad’s disappointment wasn’t only the temporary wound at the point of revelation. Sadly, his disappointment had spanned an entire decade. How much more tolerable a reality it would have been for him that his parents were financially unable to provide gifts, than to wrongly conclude, as he did, that he wasn’t good enough.
None of these are experiences we want to sign our children up for. Not when this breed of disappointment, embarrassment and demoralization are within our power to prevent.
- It caters to the convenience of parents, not the character of children.
The concepts of Santa Claus and related shelf-dwelling personalities can be wielded by parents as candy-coated tools of manipulation to produce 4-6 weeks of temporary behavior relief. Though cute and creative on the surface, this methodology is subtly self-serving and does not positively shape our children’s character. We aren’t creating children of strong character who act in kindness, honour and self-sacrificing love like Jesus-come-to-earth would model and enable. We are breeding smart sinners who learn to behave when it’s convenient and play the part of the “nice list” kid when the return is good enough.
- It is an unsettling mark against a parent’s integrity.
We desire that our relationships with our children are steady and enduring, built on the bedrock of unwavering trust. We pray that there will never be a time in our children’s recollection that we told them something they would discover to be false. There are so many essential and preserving truths of this life that we are desperate for our children to embrace that we will not jeopardize their confidence in our integrity for anything, especially something as insignificant as society’s approval. There may come a time in their lives when we need to cash in some chips from the trust bank. If we pose the question, “Have we ever lied to you before?”, we want that question to be answered with a resounding “No”. However, if they are aware that, even in fun, we deceived them – that has the potential of casting doubt on the more significant matters we have taught them to be true.
If we, as the lovers and guardians of their precious spirits are going to invest the effort to have our children believe something, we choose to invest that effort in having them believe something that only proves more true as it is tried and more trustworthy as years pass. Something that has the power to transform their lives and lift them above the pain, mess and futility of this beautiful but broken world. My parents guarded their integrity for this purpose and I am eternally grateful for the unshakable confidence that gave me in their word. And I am forever changed by the truths I was therefore, so easily able to trust.
- Honest children who inadvertently tell another child the truth are viewed as criminals.
I feel like my family has been taken hostage and forced to play a part in the grand hoax. For some reason, every person, regardless of what they believe is expected to play along with the charade or face public criticism. Anyone who would dare tell a child that Santa is not real is labeled as an unimaginative dream crusher. The ironic and confusing thing is that it is the innocent child who speaks truth that is vilified – not the adults who have perpetuated a false belief whereby perfectly positioning their children for the inevitable let-down.
I’m in no way suggesting that we encourage our family to intentionally unveil the truth to unsuspecting children. That would be ungracious. I am just pointing out that the expectation that all of society skirt the truth on the issue is both socially inconsiderate and morally duplicitous –“Always tell the truth, children. Except at Christmas time.” It’s just another reason we’re not fond of the charade.
- It diminishes the splendor of the biblical Christmas celebration by insinuating that it requires supplementation.
Though we don’t articulate it, we act in practice as if we need some imaginary component to make the season special, as if it cannot hold its own in stirring wonder, excitement and delight.
We believe that the Creator of this earth, and the author of its grand narrative, entering into creation himself to enact the greatest rescue mission in human history through an act of extravagant love is an infinitely grander reason to celebrate than a fictitious figure’s mass delivery of toys one night a year.
Is there really not enough awe in Christ’s coming or joy in the celebration of that event that we have to perpetuate a fabricated story for our children to find wonder in this season? We think not.
As we set aside time to celebrate Christ’s coming, we enjoy cozy nights by fireside and candlelight. Stirring songs of hope, love and divine rescue. The unboxing of whimsical ornaments that carry precious memories of God’s faithfulness over the years. Sensational accounts of the socially excluded, now gloriously included by angelic invitation. God’s creativity manifested in winter wonderlands soaked blue with moonlight. The fragrances of the oven’s abundance and nature brought indoors. Watching at windows, waiting for beloved people to arrive. Festive gatherings with giggling kids and thrillingly late bedtimes. Decorations that delight the senses, stir the heart and direct the intellect. Candlelit church services with kiddie choirs, resonating words of truth and sturdy joy.
And of course there’s the delicious anticipation of receiving gifts, not from a stranger or merited by virtue of “goodness”, but given by adoring family in love. Perhaps lavishly. Perhaps sacrificially. But always unconditionally. Then there is the beautiful awakening of growing children to the pleasures of giving and the delight in easing another’s suffering. The deepening understanding that we give for a reason – to celebrate Jesus, whose birth brought the gift of redeeming grace to the world. And we revel in hope – not for a solitary night for the relative few in the world who have means. But hope for all days. Hope for all situations. Hope for all people.
That’s wonder enough for this family. Nothing more needed, thank you very much.
So, what have our children missed by not believing in Santa? With the exceptions of naughty-list threats, awkward photo-shoots, crafty manipulation, unbridled greed, shaken trust, and the inevitable sadness following the grand let-down…
They haven’t missed a thing.
Instead, our children enjoy a rich Christmas tradition anchored in something grand, historic, enduring and chock full of hope. Jesus Christ. A central Christmas figure who never disappoints. Instead of giving our children a fantasy that they will grow out of in a matter of years, we choose to give them a truth so big they can spend the rest of their lives growing into it.
This article first appeared on janetsurette.com