Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Santa Debate

Apparently this year is the year for parental debates....First circumcision, naming Graham, and now Santa. Now that the boys are a little older and Christmas season is here I have become more aware of what they are learning about Christmas and Santa.

The more secular and consumer driven our world becomes, the more Santa there is and the less "Jesus is the reason for the season" there is. With all the emphasis of companies turning Christmas into "Holiday Celebrations" it makes Santa stick out like a sore thumb.

I started to notice that the boys were suddenly talking about Santa and asking us whether or not he was going to come to our house and bring presents. You see, we don't actively talk about Santa at our house so the fact that they were getting super excited about Santa bringing them presents made me a little concerned. You think I'd have been a little more prepared to answer their questions but I still wasn't sure WHAT I wanted to tell them about Santa. Jon and had talked about it a little bit but I guess in my mind I didn't feel settled about what we had decided. I didn't feel like we had decided anything.

My main concern is that I don't want my children to believe in Santa so much and then when they find out he doesn't really ride around in a sleigh and deliver presents that they feel betrayed and then think that Jesus isn't real. It somehow seems a little sinister that we purport this lie. I also don't want to take away from what Christmas is really all about--Jesus, our Savior who was born. We tell the boys who St. Nicholas was and what he was about and WHY he delivered gifts to children. I want to tell them that Santa is pretend and doesn't really come to houses on Christmas eve. If they still choose to believe that Santa is real it is on them, not me. The only problem with that is that you don't want them to go around telling other kids that he isn't real. Although, I think that most kids will think they are crazy for not "believing" in Santa and will continue to believe it anyway. Only those that already doubt will be convinced.

The thing that bugs me most about Santa is that it is all about whether or not you are good or bad and that it (for some parents) becomes a way to manipulate their children to behave. Who wants to live in fear that they won't get presents on Christmas if they are bad? We wouldn't do that with our kids but it bothers me that it is sort of the ultimate expression of pluralism. As long you are good enough you'll get the good stuff.

Jon thinks I am being a little over cautious (as some of you probably do too).
He thinks that we should not encourage Santa but also not discourage it either. So when the kids ask if Santa is going to come we should say, "do you think he will?". We aren't going to put any gifts under the tree and say they are from Santa. He thinks that if we blatantly come out and tell the kids Santa isn't real it takes some of the fun and mystery out of life. I see his point but I still feel uncomfortable with the idea of blantantly lying to my children. So far our strategy is to talk a lot about why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. We talk a lot about the Christmas story and have even gotten some children's books on Christmas.

Part of me wishes that we were some of the more countercultural Christians who don't exchange presents at all at Christmas or don't spend any money on the presents they do exchange. It would put more of the emphasis on what Christmas is all about but it would be a challenge to the kids. It feels like it is a little too late now to do anything that radical.

I have had lots of conversations with friends about the Santa debate and some share my concerns and some don't. Jon's point is that we both grew up with Santa and we turned out okay. We both believe in Jesus (although I didn't become a believer until I was in college). Maybe I am being a little paranoid about it all but I still feel worried about it.

What do you do about "the Santa debate" in your house? What do you tell your children?

****Instead of making a separate post I thought I would add it here. If you are visually sensitive while watching movies (i.e. freaky looking people) I don't recommend seeing I Am Legend with Will Smith. We went to see it not knowing that there were scary people in it and I couldn't get the images out of my head for days. ****


Abu Daoud said...

Our son already knows that Santa Clause is Saint Nicholas, and that he was a bishop in the city of Myra (present day Turkey).

I have found explaining Santa like this to be quite easy and historically speaking, true. The custom of giving gifts in stockings goes back to the original Saint too, which is a fun story to tell the kids.

Nicholas is a fine example of Christian faith. Of course he was a martyr so how he got to the North Pole...I'm still working on that.

auntjay said...

I originally had the same "what if they don't believe in Jesus after they find out the truth" question...but I remember how much I enjoyed Santa as a child AND how much Jesus was a part of our day. When I did find out the truth, it never once occurred to me to question Jesus. Now, this being said...Alex and I have decided to do the Santa thing with the girls but with the knowledge that as soon as they ask the question "Is he real?", we will answer it truthfully. We will tell them how the "legend" was born and about St. Nicholas and we will also tell them that it is something that is simply fun to do. We have never pushed that he is real. If we were asked when they were younger (and still now for Halley), we would simply ask them "What do you think?" - thus hedging the question (big grin). We have also never told them that they had to be good or else Santa would not bring them anything. We have been very careful in teaching them what Christmas is about and that it is Jesus's birthday. We do own the book you pictured in your blog and I love to read it the girls. I have also found some others that show the same kind of things. Once they ask why we give gifts to each other and not Him and our response is that one of the best gifts we can give to Jesus is to make other people's hearts happy by giving them a gift we thoughtfully chose for them. When we give someone else a present on His birthday it makes Him happy too. This is a very tough issue for some. But if it helps, here is what Riley said the other day....we had gone to see Santa in the Willow Bend mall to take pictures and somehow when it was over she brought up the Easter Bunny and how she didn't think he was real. I asked why. She said because she had never seen him. I said, "well, you have never seen Santa..." and promptly got the response of "we just did, Mom!". "You think that was the real Santa, Riley?" (exasperated sigh here) "I don't know" This ending our conversation, but I was bugged by it. So, later we talked about Jesus and how she had never seen Him either, so was He real. (another exasperated sigh) "Of course He is because He lives in my heart."

Amanda said...

Thanks for the post Amelia. I was just wondering about this very issue the other day. Annabelle is still too young for Santa, but now that I have a child and we are setting our traditions I want to be clear. I was thinking about maybe having Annabelle sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and we cook make a b-day cake. Or have her make Him a b-day gift every year and "give it" to Him somehow.

There is a family in my church that every few years, they don't exchange gifts. So there are a few radical ones out there. And this year we exchanged fewer gifts with our adult family. It was hard for us to re-enter into American Christmas after seeing the poor in the islands and slums of the Philippines this month.

I saw the preview for the movie you mentioned and it looked like a horror film, so I wouldn't see it. I am very much one of those people that have difficultly getting horrible images out of my head. I finally watched 'Stardust' yesterday and it wasn't too bad. But I still prayed over my dreams after watching it.

Kelsey said...

Love this post. I have a feeling that next year we're going to have to break the news to Levi. Dan, like Jon, feels that it's best not to say anything, however I don't want Levi to believe Santa is real. I am utterly amazed that Santa is already synonymous to Christmas in Levi's brain, and that I can't seem to make it clear to him that it's Jesus' birthday. I'm sure it's just that he hears about Santa a lot more, through the media, through school and well meaning friends of ours. I don't like it. I have the exact same issue with it as you... not wanting to build it up just to dash it and having him wonder if the same is true for Jesus, that his birth is just another story.
I like that you are discussing St. Nicholas with them, I think I'll have to do that as well. It is great to counterbalance the fictional Christmas elf with the true story of St. Nicholas.
You guys look like you're doing great! I hope Christmas and New Years were very happy!