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.|
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?