Ahhh, the dreaded question is coming up again… “You’re not going to take away Santa Clause from your children are you?” or sometimes more disparagingly, “You’re not one of those Christians who doesn’t celebrate Santa Clause are you?” Well-meaning family members and friends continue to ask me this every winter season, desperately worried that I will rob our young children (3,2,1 yrs) of that age-old fantastical celebrity. In their eyes, such an action is a travesty, a crime too horrible for words.
You think I’m exaggerating! In some ways, perhaps, but this offense is very real to those who still generally approve of the Christian presence in culture. Don’t evangelize me or try to convince me of your truth, they say, but as long as you celebrate Santa Clause, you’re ok. We can accept that. Such is the liberalizing of Christianity in our culture.
Indeed, perhaps it is the devil that furthers the Santa Clause myth, making the deprivation of such a sordid figure an almost-felony to grandparents, in particular. After all, what is attractive about a fat old man who sneaks down your chimney at night, smokes, eats your cookies, and takes all the credit for the lovely presents he leaves? Come on–objectively, now–this is not really that great a tale. The thing that makes it so hard for would-be Christian tolerators is not the elements of the story, but the element of magic, fantasy. “Children NEED a fantasy life,” they say. “It is a crime to rob children of such a magical tale when they are young. They will have plenty of time when they are older to disbelieve in such things.” Indeed, the idea of deluding our children to believe in this figure is seen as a wonderful thing in many people’s eyes because the belief in magic and fantasy is seen as superstition–something to discard when you are older and know better.
So my question is, Does teaching our children about Santa Clause actually teach them the reverse? That all fantasy IS fiction? That there is no such thing as magic or the supernatural? It is possible that perpetuating such legendary tales indeed portrays them as only legend, and that if we did not teach them such fiction, they would actually accept the supernatural as real when they got older. After all, what child has the ability to distinguish between Santa Clause and God? They never see either. They hear adults tell them the stories year after year. What about Halloween ghosts and the Holy Ghost? Bedtime monsters and demonic spirits? Witches with green faces and capes and Wiccan witches with earthy clothes and incense? We really do a disservice to our children if we think they can figure these things out, especially at the tender ages of 3,2,1 when we are planting this stuff.
The answer to most people is, it’s all fake. Teach them these icons when they are young–the staples of most child’s stories, fables, and videos–and then take it away later when they are able to handle the truth. They can handle it. We handled it ok. They’ll know that whatever they can’t see or experience is all fake: God, Holy Ghost, demonic spirits, and witchcraft included. BUT DON’T ROB THEM OF THIS WHEN THEY’RE YOUNG!
I am sorry, but I cannot see this logic. Forget about the fact that I didn’t really buy Santa Clause as a kid, and neither did a lot of other children I know. Forget about the fact that I was only mildly concerned that my parents would deceive me about this fat old man (I hid from them that I knew the truth for several years). Forget about the fact that in our pluralistic age, kids can’t even learn about Santa Clause in school anymore and lots of children from other religions may “ruin” it for our children far before we’re ready to divulge the secret ourselves. Forget that it really does seem foolish to pretend a man in the North Pole loves your children more than parents do and would want to treat them to all kinds of goodies every year just for “supposedly” being good. And forget that Santa Clause itself is a strange hybrid of old Catholic and Germanic pagan history, perpetuated in its current form only about two centuries ago.
But whatever you forget, don’t forget that the supernatural is real. And if you really want to mess your children up for life, start teaching them to be confused about paranormal phenomena, including the line between myth and reality. I know so many people will say I am taking the issue too seriously–I have heard that for at least seven years now. But I don’t think so. We are just in the middle of trying to teach our elder toddlers the difference between telling the truth and telling a lie. We are just trying to impress upon their small hearts the truths of God, and His goodness, His power over the darkness. We are just trying to get them to be respectful and appreciative of adults. Why would we throw in this little bit of cultural leaven just because some mild Christian tolerators want us to? Teaching your children about Santa Clause (or the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, or whatever weird fantasy you like) is not a crime, but NOT teaching them is truly a virtue. You are continuing along the path of honesty and faithfulness to doctrine that you have started. You are not confusing their tiny minds with what is real, or predetermining them to an adult life of materialism (belief in sense experience only).
Easy to say, hard to do. Even in a pluralistic culture, the pressure to subscribe your kids to Santa is high. (Even Jewish children are sometimes taught Santa along with the menorah!) One thing I sense is that America has an infantile complex. Like Rousseau, we see tiny children as innocent, unstained, a picture of the divine here on earth. And we lament our rational, adult lives so dry of fiction and belief. So we try to preserve the innocence and fantasy (blurring of fact and fiction) that naturally comes with young childhood. But instead of channeling that fantasy into the true supernatural doctrines of Christianity (i.e the existence of God, the soul, divine healing, the afterlife…), we see those things as, ironicially, for pious adulthood (if you choose that route). We take those away and give a saccharine substitute–the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa, ghoulies and ghosties at Halloween–because we think those are more palatable and fun.
But is it the child’s fun, or the adult’s? Who is receiving the most joy and benefit here? From the zeal that I see in adult’s homes, on adult’s faces, in adult’s stores, and even in the adult workplace around the Christmas (and Halloween) seasons, I would submit that it is an adult “high.” We have idolized childhood myths out of our own sadness and lack of faith. WE are the ones who need some fun in our lives, so we project it onto our children (who lovingly, innocently, and more charmingly than we could, display joy and laughter at our childish antics). And we relish it, thinking it absolutely necessary to the satisfied childhood experience. But maybe it is just absolutely necessary to the satisfied parental (or grandparental) experience.
Now, all fiction has a purpose, and God gave us imaginations and the ability to dream. But there is nothing about a child, or a child’s ability to fantasize, that should be deified in itself. Americans who have lost faith in God, or lost faith in the supernatural, of course believe to take away Santa is to take away a child’s faith. But faith in what? I would rather take away their faith in something fake and instill it in something real, than to “wean” them onto the supernatural through placebos, or worse, repel them all to
gether. In reality, if the imagination is fostered towards the doctrines of God and the supernatural elements which are real, then there is no need to worry that taking away Santa is dooming your children to materialist humdrum. They will get plenty of dreams and visions–for real–in the Christian life. And they will do so without getting all confused about spirits, souls, and fantastical beings.
Make no mistake, God commends childlike faith. There is something precious to be guarded in a child’s mentality, but it is not fictitious tales about a man and reindeer. It is a submissive and willing assent to the real thing rather than the substitute. If we rob our children of that, we have lost more than their innocence–we have lost their souls.