12.18.2012

ON LOVE, TRUST AND SANTA CLAUS


I have this intense feeling, which I think and hope most parents have, of wanting my daughter to have the most fulfilling, joyous life possible. I want her to know that she is loved. Terrible tragedies like Friday's school shooting and recently learning that my friend's two-year-old has leukemia intensify that feeling all the more. Like all precious babies, my daughter gets so excited about things like crunching a leaf or splashing in the bathtub. She seeks out her BFF every morning at daycare to shower him with kisses, and when he falls down or gets in trouble, she cries too. Right now, she lives her little life with one foot planted in reality and the other in her imagination. She knows all about "real" things like eating when you're hungry and drinking when you're thirsty, but I was surprised at the young age at which she first started giving her plastic doll its bottle and feeding us imaginary stew from a tiny teacup. She doesn't have to work hard to find the magic and wonder in ordinary life. This sense of innocence and wonderment is so beautiful, and I am sad to know she will outgrow it one day.

Christmas is an especially magical time of year, and many people have asked me if I've taken Johnnie to see Santa Claus. While I'm sure the photo op would be memorable, we have decided to sit this one out and forgo the whole Santa thing in our home. We will teach Johnnie about the history of St. Nicholas and how he came to be  known as the modern Santa Claus, and we'll even watch all the Christmas movies I'm still a sucker for even as I approach 30. We'll teach her about serving and giving to others during the holiday season rather than focusing on all the things we want to receive. We'll drink hot cocoa and wear reindeer sweaters. There will be goodies in her stocking.

But, instead of telling her Santa brought those gifts, I want her to know that her dad and I lovingly chose them for her and paid for them with the money we worked hard to earn -- or made them with our own two hands. Could Christmas get any warmer or fuzzier for a child than knowing that her gifts, however small or few, were given out of her parents' love? Why should Santa get all the credit? I believe this is the perfect time to teach children about love, sacrifice, giving and receiving. This is the perfect time to reinforce the beautiful things about family. Who needs Santa at a time like this?

Glittery "you are loved" decal above Johnnie's crib by Shanna Murray.
Plus, Santa is creepy, right? Millions of family albums with photos of children screaming on Santa's lap agree. My parents have one or two such photos of me as a child, and with good reason. First we wisely teach our children about not talking to strangers, then we throw them on a strange, bearded fat man's lap and ask them to smile. Of course they cry. In the same vein, I also won't subject her to the terrifying thought of a little inanimate plastic Elf on the Shelf watching her every move from strategic places in the house. That would've paralyzed me with sheer terror as a child (Chuckie flashbacks, anyone?), and -- maybe I should duck before saying this -- I personally think it's a lazy form of parenting if you're using it to get your kids to behave. (Note: If your kids know you're the one manipulating the Elf and you're not using it as a behavioral device, then I can get behind that.)

Before anyone starts getting defensive for their own children who do believe in Santa, please know we will do our best to teach Johnnie to be sensitive and gracious about other children's beliefs (whether about Santa or other things), so as not to send them home from school in tears. But in this case I don't see the benefit of purposely instilling a belief in Santa in her only to have to discover later that it was all a well-intentioned lie. Sure, Santa provides a little extra magic in children's holidays for a few years, but  I don't want her to be the kid that comes home crying one day either, having discovered we'd knowingly lied to her about Santa all her life. What else had we, her parents, been lying about? I can picture this terrible moment of awakening, as this is the kind of childhood crisis I was prone to. (Not that I blame you for my upbringing, parents -- I had it good!) But I can't in good conscience build a false worldview for my daughter, fully knowing it will be shattered one day. Where's the magic in that?

Then, of course, there's the religious aspect of Santa. As big fans of Jesus, we already have one difficult story line to follow and a lot of tough questions to answer -- not only at Christmastime, but every day of the year. I'll be the first to admit it takes a lot of faith, hope and letting go to buy into the Judeo-Christian narrative from beginning to end. But we do. Given that, I'm not sure we need to add all of Santa's logistical difficulties to the mix, especially when his supposed "generosity" takes the focus away from the story of Jesus' birth. Why would a child concern himself with Jesus' less tangible spiritual gifts when Santa brings Xboxes? While the mind of God is often a mystery, I'm pretty sure He is none too pleased about all this Santa hoopla we cooked up. Isn't Jesus enough for those of us to claim to put our faith in Him?

The bottom line is, whether I mean to or not, I'm teaching my little sponge of a daughter things every day -- and that has made me more aware of and intentional about everything I say and do, whether it's about Santa Claus or obedience or making healthy decisions or faith or the many other issues that are shaping her as a person even now. It's a lot of responsibility, guiding a person through all these issues and discoveries, but I am happy to do it because she deserves our best attempts at imparting wisdom, truth and grace to her. Maybe you'll disagree about what we teach her, but I hope you can get behind the love that is motivating it. Because I can't think of a more welcoming place for the magic of childhood to thrive in than one built on love and trust.

I'm curious: what did you grow up believing about Santa Claus? What will you teach your children?

12 comments:

  1. I liked reading your thoughts on this. I grew up Christian and being taught that Santa was real. I do remember that I figured out he wasn't real on my own and it didn't shatter me. More than anything, I felt grown up being let in on a secret. And because I had siblings younger than me, I perpetuated the myth until they found out on their own. My trust in my parents wasn't shattered or anything.
    Now that this is my last Christmas not being a mom, I have been thinking about future holiday seasons more. We're not Christian, so we don't celebrate the religious aspect. We're also not big into the overwhelming materialistic nature of the holiday and the modern Santa plays into that quite a bit. I'm not sure what we'll do about Santa. I think probably end up with a compromise of sorts, but it's interesting reading other takes!

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    1. It can be a lot to think about. I'll be interested to hear where you end up. For now, enjoy your last Christmas as just the two of you!

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  2. My parents decided that we wouldn’t do Santa as kids and I am so thankful that they made that decision. My mom wanted us to focus on the true meaning of Christmas and understand that it truly is better to give than receive. My brothers and I knew that Santa was not real, but we weren’t allow to spoil it for other kids at church, school, etc. Mom must have threatened us within an inch of our lives to keep us quiet! She told us that our family did not believe in Santa, but that other kids did and that we needed to keep it to ourselves, so we did.

    Other than than detracting from the birth of Christ my other big pitfall with Santa...I’m not sure why people think it’s so great to lie to their kids and deal with the terrible disappointment that ensues. All I know that is when my husband and I have kids we will celebrate the birth of Jesus and what He did for us rather than a fictional man! Good luck figuring it all out. There's definitely a lot to think about.

    I like what this lady has to say about it in her Christmas series she did awhile back. Part 1: http://prairiejuan.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/the-problem-with-santaday-22-of-31-days-to-redeeming-christmas/
    Part 2: http://prairiejuan.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/the-problem-with-santa-part-2day-23-of-31-posts/
    Part 3: http://prairiejuan.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/the-problem-with-santa-part-3day-26/

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Megan. Glad to hear you were able to maintain your non-belief in Santa without shattering it for other kids. That's one of my bigger concerns.

      I haven't had a chance to read through the whole series you sent, but clearly it's a good, thought-provoking resource for those seeking wisdom on how to balance Jesus and Santa.

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  3. We believed in Santa. When I found out that Santa was not real, I did not feel like my parents were lying to me. I felt like they tried to keep my magical imagination alive.

    We grew up as Christians and knew the real reason behind Christmas. We were also taught is was more important to give than receive, and practice that. Christmas was never soley about the presents and Santa, but that was a fun part added in.

    I don't see what the harm is letting your kids believe in childhood figures. It is fun and exciting for them. I am not so vain as to be jealous of the fact that my kids think their presents have come from some one else, not me. And I am not a lazy parent by saying "Santas watching", I still discipline my children as needed and their behavior doesn't change the month of December from the month of April.

    My parents never "lied" to us about Santa. When we asked, they would respond in answers such as "what do you think?".

    My children believe in Santa, and will I will encourage their imagination and let them relish in their childhood for as long as they wish. As well with believing in the tooth fairy, etc.

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    1. While we don't agree on all points, I think it's wonderful that you want to let your children relish in their childhood and encourage their imagination. Childhood ends all too soon for many kids.

      While I am 100% guilty of being vain all too often, I promise I am not jealous of Santa! I just want to clarify that my comment about Santa "taking the credit" was more about making sure my daughter knows her parents love her, more than bringing credit onto ourselves for the material aspects of Christmas. For me it's more about creating a sense of family and security for her. I should have phrased it differently. My apologies there!

      Thanks for raising your points! I love hearing different perspectives.

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  4. All present
    All seeing/knowing
    All powerful

    Offer up food in honor of his coming.
    Pointing to, cautioning for...awaiting his return
    Given authority to reward or punish behavior

    When you take the attributes of God and authority only God has the right to give, as seen here, and transfer them to someone else...like it or not...that's called an idol. There is no nice way to white wash that...and if you've been spinning this to your kids...yeah you should be upset. And when you're done being ticked off at me for pointing it out (men love darkness rather than light) then be honest and assess your beliefs and the ones you are fostering in your children.

    And an honest converstion...NOT about saying Santa is real...it SO not about THAT...but an "I'm sorry I took what only belongs to God and gave it to a fairytale" is going to speak volumes to your kids for their LIFETIME! That you believe in the Power of an always present Savior, all powerful King, and All knowing being "to whom all things lay open and naked and from whom nothing is hid"...who is coming again and whose return merits all the fabricated pomp we give to a ficticious being...wow, what greater gift and empowerment can you give to your children this Christmas season...

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    1. I love what you said here: "Be honest and assess your beliefs and the ones you are fostering in your children."

      This is the driving point behind why I wrote this post. I am learning about how much self-awareness it takes to be a parent, and I think it's important to examine what you believe to make sure you A) really believe it, and B) are living and teaching your children in alignment with it.

      Thanks for sharing, Alicha. These are definitely not easy things for many Christians to hear. I lack your boldness, as this is not an outlet I normally use to dig deep into serious matters, but I agree with you.

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    2. Alicha:

      I'm re-reading some of EK's older posts while I await her new ones. For one reason or another, I don't remember this one, but I was Blessed to read your comments. Well said, Outstanding.

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  5. M&H- Good point concerning the question of "what do you think?" This is the same tactic used to debunk God's existence. Santa is a good dry run for teaching our children reject God, one atheist writes, "Santa Claus, my secular friends, is the greatest gift a rational worldview ever had. Our culture has constructed a silly and temporary myth parallel to its silly and permanent one. They share a striking number of characteristics, yet the one is cast aside halfway through childhood. And a good thing, too: A middle-aged father looking mournfully up the chimbly along with his sobbing children on yet another giftless Christmas morning would be a sure candidate for a very soft room. This culturally pervasive myth is meant to be figured out, designed with an expiration date, after which consumption is universally frowned upon."

    He concludes: "By allowing our children to participate in the Santa myth and find their own way out of it through skeptical inquiry, we give them a priceless opportunity to see a mass cultural illusion first from the inside, then from the outside. A very casual line of post-Santa questioning can lead kids to recognize how completely we all can snow ourselves if the enticements are attractive enough. Such a lesson, viewed from the top of the hill after exiting a belief system under their own power, can gird kids against the best efforts of the evangelists – and far better than secondhand knowledge could ever hope to do."

    See http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/?p=4982

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    1. Santa: the gateway drug to apostasy.

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Thanks for reading! I love your thoughts, feedback and suggestions. Keep 'em coming!