Christmas without Santa
I was raised without Santa as far as I can remember. But then, my memory of childhood is vague at best. My ex-wife comes from a family that found it very important to make Santa an important part of Christmas. He always gave the biggest and best gifts to the kids. He would eat some of the cookies that the kids would leave out for him and take the carrot they left out for Rudolf. So my ex continued the tradition, and even though I was never excited about it myself, I went along.
I never thought it made much sense as Christian parents, to fool our kids into believing in an all-seeing, all-knowing magical being who rewards the good and punishes the bad. For one thing, the image comes way to close to God, and for another thing, it reinforces a skewed view of good and evil that trains the spirit in legalism. As to the first point, why do we find it acceptable to say to our kids when they are older, “Yes, we lied to you about Santa, but God is real.” What does that teach our kids? Besides teaching them that it’s ok to lie for the sake of imaginative fun it also speaks to the human need for belief. It teaches that this need can be taken advantage of, making a person easily duped. This can only lead one to guard against the natural need for faith and belief. And how do you think that will affect their future spiritual walk? I wonder how many Christians have trust issues with God because they are guarding the wound of cheated spirit. They put trust and belief in what their parents told them, and that trust was broken when they found that Santa wasn’t real.
Then there is the behavior reward system of the Santa Clause myth. You have this immortal god-like being handing out gifts to those who earn them. Sure, it’s a game of make-believe, but it teaches legalism in its purest form. And how easy it is to transpose that teaching onto your religious system, especially when it is prone to the problem already. Humans want to pound God into the legalism mold so badly. Every religion does it. It would make life so great if you knew you could get goodies by acting certain ways or making certain sacrifices. Placate the gods by throwing a virgin in the volcano and you get a good harvest. Show the gods how much you respect them by killing your children on an alter and your wives will be more fertile. Appease the power of karma by dispassionately ignoring the suffering around you and you will be reincarnated as a king next time. Blow yourself up in a crowded mall full of infidels and you will get a harem full of virgins. Be a good boy and don’t annoy mommy or daddy and you will get an X-Box at X-mas. Pay your tithe and vote for the right people and you will get a big crown in heaven.
It’s ironic that a holiday that is ostensibly rooted in the only religion that specifically rejects legalism, should be warped so as to actually enforce legalism. But that’s just human nature. Christianity as a religion has succumbed to this nature so much that it’s most distinguishing characteristic, (The free and unmerited grace of salvation) is almost unrecognizable except in its earliest writings. So it’s no surprise that a holiday premised on the free and unmerited incarnation of God has become a celebration of legalism and consumerism. The question to me is whether I’m going to go with the flow and continue to inculcate my children with those values and ideas. I think not.
So how does one reveal the truth of this matter to a seven and ten year old without being a monster or kill-joy? Well Justin, my ten-year-old, has been skeptical about it for a couple of years. But Shane wholeheartedly buys the media-driven idea that it is a moral good to believe in Santa. Whenever they ask me about it, I’ve always “plead the fifth.” (Which was at least an educational experience for them.) I do the same for the tooth fairy. But whenever we discussed Santa, Heather and I always brought the conversation around to what Santa represents. We explain the origin of the character, and the quality of generosity that St. Nicholas was known for. And how God showed the highest generosity possible by becoming a human so we could be with Him. Justin picked up on this well, and I would often hear him remind Shane that “Christmas is not about the presents.”
The big gift I was getting for the family this year was going to be what may be the most poorly named consumer product since the Pinto: The Nintendo Wii. (pronounced “wee”) Well, despite it’s unfortunate multi-cultural, committee, focus-tested double entendre of a name, it was almost impossible to find one. I ended up in several lines where they ran out before I could get one. Well, we heard that Toys R Us was getting a big shipment a particular weekend and so we showed up early (for me) in the morning to find a line of well over a hundred people winding out of the building. Well, the kids, wife and I stood in the cold for over an hour, and eventually Heather took the kids home, but I stayed and it turned out that they had 134 units, and I was 134th place in line. I got the last one.
So it was no surprise what the big Christmas gift was going to be this year. In Christmas pasts Santa always got the glory for the big stuff. The big present was the “Santa present”. Well, this provided a perfect opportunity for letting the boys know what’s going on. But I didn’t want them to be lost when it happened. So I did a little prep work. I wanted to explain the concept of a metaphorical character to the kids so they would have a reference point to work with. The closest metaphorical character I could think of was Uncle Sam. So the next time we saw something military related I told them about Uncle Sam. They didn’t grasp the concept to well. “He’s not a real person, but people talk about the government like it is a person. A person named Uncle Sam. He stands for something, but he is not real.” … “Uh, dad… I don’t get it.”
Well, when Christmas morning came and they excitedly opened the big present that said “From Santa” on it -and found the item we all stood in line for - they got it. And they were just fine with it. Justin said he knew it all along.
So now, we can focus on the nature of gift-giving, generosity, and love as an exercise mimicking the gift of Christ, not the gift of a metaphor.