Friday, December 11, 2009

On St. Nicholas and Santa

The comments from the last post overwhelmingly voiced a desire to continue the Santa discussion.

I have recently come to realize that this is a more sensitive topic than I thought. I brought it up at my book club last week, the day that I learned my son had told his class Santa was dead and in Heaven. I think I have been a bit naive about the subject, thinking it not so big of a deal. Because of our son's intolerance for large crowds and noise, we tend to stay closer to home at this young age and many of our friends in the area do not do Santa. But, by virtue of his participation in his class, Santa has made his way into our lives. Below my post, you will see Red's family tradition, which does incorporate Santa.

Because of my oldest son's fierce love for truth and justice, I was afraid that telling him Santa wasn't real, even thought other kids believed, would spur him on to a crusade of telling the truth about Santa. So I thought that by downplaying, noting that some people called St. Nicholas Santa Claus, we would gloss over the differences and everyone would be happy. I was wrong. Of course, the problem is that Santa Claus and St. Nicholas are not the same in today's world and I have since told him that some people like to pretend that Santa lives at the North Pole, has flying reindeer etc. I'm not so concerned with the precise historical metamorphosis of St. Nicholas into Santa. But the cartoon Santa with the flying reindeer and toy workshop is not exactly the same at the Bishop of Myra who shared from his own wealth and gave his life in service to the Church.

Let me be clear. I don't hate Santa. I don't think that doing Santa is wrong or bad or misguided. Santa is not an issue of moral absolutes. I do think Santa can be done in a way that does not lose the true meaning of Christmas. We don't forgo Santa as a pious, holier-than-thou act. We don't forgo Santa just because he is secular. Many things we do during the Advent and Christmas season are not overtly religious, but add to the specialness of the season. I am not a theologian or a historian. Just a mom trying to navigate culture, faith and family.

Here are some of the reasons that we do not do Santa, some paraphrased from the discussion our book club had on the subject:

1. We love fantasy. I believe it plays an important role in a child's development emotionally, morally and spiritually. However, I do believe there is a difference between entering into a fairy tale world and having an imaginary character come down your chimney and into your home. For our son with sensory issues there must be a very sharp line between reality and fantasy. I have heard several stories, and some mentioned in the comments, that kids are afraid of a strange man coming into their home at night. This is not an issue with our second son, so I think it depends on the temperament of each child. For our oldest son to feel safe, we must suspend reality and enter into an imaginative world. Knowing that it is pretend allows us the freedom to be imaginative without fear. I am asked 14 times a day if things from Curious George to our mailman are pretend and don't think that all young children are comfortable with a vague understanding or what is and is not real. I don't intend for this to turn into a discussion of the nature of fairy tales and fantasy, just trying to make a distinction.

2. In order to convince our son that Santa was real we would have to lie or come up with an insanely outlandish story to explain everything at the age of 3. A cursory "Santa has some helpers..." would not do the trick in our home. I would be peppered with questions incessantly and Dash would probably insist on trying to go down the chimney himself. When he asked me if Santa was pretend, I told him yes, but that we don't need to tell other kids that. Honestly, Dash is not yet of the age of reason and a stickler for truth and I am afraid that he may tell another child who believes in Santa that Santa is not real, but I can't lie about it. But, after explaining that he is a pretend character, Dash seemed happier to play along with everything, knowing it is all a story. It is not the fact that Santa is secular that makes me is having to lie about it. Again, our second son would swallow the Santa tale with a smile on his face and ask no questions. I am okay with pretend characters as long as we call a spade a spade.

3. Santa adds to the consumerism of the Christmas season. The Christmas shopping season that begins in August and ends December 24 is outrageous and over the top. Buy, buy, buy, Get, get get. Questions about Christmas revolve around, "What did you ask Santa for Christmas?" Though, during our discussion, one mother brought up how she likes doing Santa because it allows them to be super generous to their kids without blowing their "frugal facade."

4. I do think that a sense of magic and the miraculous can spur a child on to a deeper understanding of things unseen. However, if a parent has been lying to a child about Santa, then would they not call into question other truths about God and the saints that are being taught? I remember being totally scandalized to learn that Santa was not real. I was riding home from school in the way back seat of a station wagon and Diana and Molly told me that Santa wasn't real. I guarantee you I would not remember those names were it not for that awful day. There are many real miracles in addition to, or course, the Incarnation, to elevate a child's sense of the divine. My children never tire of hearing the story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe all year round.

Why we celebrate St. Nicholas on December 6:

1. It is a feast in the liturgical year. Even though many legends surround what good works the Bishop of Myra did or did not perform, the Church in her wisdom has declared December 6 a day to honor and remember St. Nicholas.

2. Celebrating the lives of the saints is a great way to teach moral lessons. Ours focuses heavily on sharing and generosity, especially with respect to the poor, which ties in very well with the Advent theme of preparation. We can prepare to welcome to baby Jesus into our hearts and homes when we are generous and detached. We usually purchase and wrap our angel tree gifts and try to give some of our extraneous toys/possessions away during this week when we read about St. Nicholas and bake our Speculatius.

3. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, an intercessor and a friend in Heaven.

4. December 25 is Jesus' birthday. We exchange family presents on December 25th in honor of Jesus' birthday and with the other side of the family on January 6, Epiphany, but the focus of the day is celebrating Jesus' birthday. I don't really remember the boys' reactions to opening presents last year, but I do remember them running around to all our nativity scenes to add, finally, baby Jesus. We bake a birthday cake and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.

5. Christmas morning is magical whether or not you do Santa. We enjoy a warm breakfast and hot chocolate, attend mass, sing Christmas carols and share gifts as a family. Joy exudes from each well-prepared heart as we give Jesus the gift our ourself, striving, however imperfectly, for holiness.

A different view from Red:

When I was a young girl, the magic and mystery surrounding Santa Claus was always a special part of Christmas morning. Thanks to my grandparents, both of my parents had strong memories of Santa from their youth, and it was with great joy that they passed that tradition on to me and my siblings.

When I was in first grade, my neighbor and best friend was the daughter of the local baptist pastor. Their family didn't do Santa, and, in fact, they vehemently opposed having Santa as a part of the Christmas tradition. One day, my friend proudly told me that Santa was a lie. I was quite disappointed (and my mother was very irritated!), and I wished my friend hadn't taken it upon herself to end the childhood magic my parents had worked so hard to create. I do remember, however, that I wasn't shocked at the news. I was at the age where I was questioning certain things about Santa (the wrapping paper was a big tip-off for me), but I desperately wanted to believe. I was going to find out sooner or later, but the manner in which my friend broke the news was a sad memory. Fortunately, I have used this memory to form my own approach to Santa with my children.

First, I think it goes without saying that every family is going to have their own Christmas traditions. Extended family situations can get complicated, so even the best intentions for certain family celebrations may be altered to appease disapproving grandparents. In our case, we have found Santa almost impossible to avoid, particularly when it comes to my own extended family and even our local parish! Family Christmas traditions are such great fun, so I think it is important to consider (but not cater to) the feelings of grandparents and extended family members. If we had ditched Santa completely, making a strong break from the way my parents celebrated Christmas with me, and the way their parents celebrated Christmas with them, it would be rather harsh. In addition, if all my siblings and their young ones are celebrating and including Santa, it gets complicated to have our family not participate.

I found great joy believing in Santa as a child, and I do want my children to experience some of that joy. I do think that the magic of Santa helped me to embrace the magic and mystery of my Catholic faith. At the same time, however, I want to avoid my children having a moment like the one I had with my baptist friend. So I have instituted the following guidelines for Santa:

1. We make it very clear that Christmas is about Jesus, and the character of Santa exists because Jesus is so special that he wants all of us to have gifts on his birthday. Our children get three gifts because that is what Jesus received from the 3 wise kings.

2. I do not lie to my children. We read books about Santa, and we talk about the story of Santa. We explain that St. Nicholas was a real person, a Saint, who lived and served the poor. Santa Claus is a modern character in the spirit of St. Nicholas. Santa is like Elmo. I read books about Elmo and we talk about Elmo--and we even go to Sesame Place where Elmo "lives." I don't feel the need to explain that Elmo is really just a weird man wearing a big suit. At some point, this will become obvious, or my kids may ask, and then I will explain fully that Elmo is just pretend and what they see is really just a man in a suit. I do not tell my children that Santa is coming to our house and bringing them presents. I do say, "there will be presents under the tree on Christmas morning" and my kids let me know that Santa will put them there! Last year Gianna asked me if Santa was dead (similar to the conversation Texas Mommy had with Dash). I went so far as to tell her that Santa was a character like Elmo, whereas St. Nicholas was a real person. I thought she understood, but immediately afterward she asked how Santa would get into our house because we don't have a chimney! The line between real and make-believe is very faint for a young child, and I think as long as that line is faint, it is great to pretend in regards to Santa. Once the line starts to make more sense, I think the truth is important. I do think that belief in things like Santa, and fantasy in general, helps lay the foundation for a lifelong belief in God. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out--belief in God is belief in the ultimate mystery.

3. Santa is not a big part of our Christmas celebration. We do not go out of our way to "visit" Santa. We do not write him letters asking for things (I have a general aversion to children getting greedy at Christmas). We do not leave cookies for Santa. We do not sign the gifts from Santa, rather, certain gifts are from mom and dad while others have no tag. Not doing some of these things tones it down a bit, and helps to keep us focused on Christ. I have found it to be a nice balance and it helps us to avoid the materialistic nature of Santa. The kids know about and believe in the tradition of Santa, but it isn't overwhelming.

4. When a child is asking questions and the line between pretend and make believe is gaining clarity, I plan to tell them the truth about Santa, and then solicit their help in pretending for the younger children. I will also share with them the importance of respect, and that they should never go about and tell other children that Santa is pretend or a lie--this is both mean and disrespectful of the parenting choices of other people. The age at which we plan to have this conversation with our children depends upon their individual personalities. Some kids may want to outgrow their fantasy world at the age of 6, while other children may be 8 or 9 before they start to figure it all out. I have head of quite a few kids who never even need to talk to mom and dad about Santa, but instead just play right along for the benefit of the younger ones--and maybe even mom and dad!

4. We do not celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas. It is impossible to celebrate every feast of the church in our home, and to be honest, with the already hectic nature of Advent, St. Nicholas just doesn't make our list. Each family has to choose some feast days to recognize and others to let go. At present, we haven't felt a strong desire to foster this devotion, but I think it is great that Texas Mommy and some of the other builders celebrate this feast in such a special way.

I hesitate to state the obvious, but please keep all comments civil and refrain from personal attacks!! I now realize that this is a sensitive topic. Of course, we can be very emotional about wanting our children to experience joy and excitement during this time of year. I pray that this post has not put anyone on the defensive. If it has, please email me separately.


Sophie said...

well done builders. Your explanations are thoughtful and logical. I think the most important thing with these decisions is that they are deliberate and that nothing is done "just because".

We do basically what Red described. I don't really say much about Santa. They get it mostly from outside influences, but we don't make a big deal of it here. We don't do the lists and visits and all that. I think the part about lying is important too. Sometimes people assume that if you do Santa you have to lie to your kids. Not the case here. If my kids have questions about it, sometimes I just say, "well, what do you think happens?" If they want more details, I usually tell them something like, "some people believe that the character of Santa does...." I usually try to turn it back to them, though to let them tell me about whatever fantasy they are believing in.

Of course everything is so dependent on the kid and that's important to consider too. My oldest didn't really believe any of the Santa myths when he was 3. Now he seems to be really into the "magic" of it all. I think it's because now he's a voracious reader and reads many stories and myths and legends, and enjoys them.

JMB said...

I really enjoyed this discussion. What I have been thinking about over the past few days is that something is happening in our culture that is causing adults to to clam up about traditions. So the preschool teacher who once gave a little lesson on Santa Claus now has to check with parents and find out if its ok. I think that is kind of sad. You would expect that at a public school but not at a Catholic one.

When I was a little girl I attended a public school. Our formerly very Dutch Protestant town was in the midst of being transformed into a "multi cultural" suburb of NYC, with a sudden influx of Italians, Irish and Jews from NYC and the outer boroughs.

I remember singing Christmas carols at Christmas concert. Then of course, some Jewish families objected (and they did so with good intentions and grace) and so Hannukah songs were included and the concert was called a "Holiday Concert". That was fine. Fast foward 30 some odd years and last night I sat through a "Winter" contest at my childrens' public school which included a smattering of Jewish songs and a couple of Holiday tunes and not one song that mentioned the miracle of Christ birth.

The point I'm making is that when we start getting prickly about common traditions we all lose out. There is nothing inherently wrong about Santa Claus, or St. Nick or giving gifts from Santa to your children. Or even lying to them about Santa. Heck, I lie to children about a lot of stuff (most of which is none of their business) Santa being one little lie is ok with me.

These are good traditions, and they're worth holding on to. And perhaps we are being a little too intellectual about the whole thing.

Sophie said...

JMB, I agree with much of what you said, and the main point of your post. But I have to respectfully disagree with the lying bit. Lying is a sin against the 8th commandment. It is a sin to lie. It is completely possible to do the Santa thing without lying. If there's ever something my kids ask about that is not their concern, I simply state that. "Sorry, bud but that's not something you need to know about. I know it's hard, but you need to trust Mommy that I will tell you WHAT you need to know WHEN you need to know it."

I don't want my comment to come across holier than thou or anything, but I think it's important to be careful of that.

Personally I think it makes our kids trust us less when we tell little lies, even if we are doing it to protect them. I think the more teaching thing to do is say only the truth they need to hear and respectfully explain why they don't need to hear the rest.

Hopefully I didn't cross any boundaries here, just wanted to make the distinction that we can pass on fun traditions to our kids without committing a sin.

Jennifer Frey said...

Great post! Thanks so much, ladies, for sharing your perspective.

One burning question remains: Will Mary Alice weigh in?

Right Said Red said...

MaryAlice is having computer problems. I believe her computer has a virus, and so her computer time is very limited...but of course we would all love to hear her thoughts. I know she does do Santa with her children, but I'm not sure of any details.

Joanne said...

I personally don't want to tell my kids about Santa, but my husband does. We have a while to figure it out but it's something I have thought a lot about, so I appreciate this post.

I don't know why this is so controversial. Why can't it be that some of us tell our kids about Santa and some of us don't? What is it about motherhood that gets us all (I include myself) so defensive? I consider it none of my business what other people do, or do not, teach their children about Santa, or many other things!

texas mommy said...

Joanne, I felt the same way you did...why is this such a big deal? My husband chuckled at me...sometimes I can be naive about these things and told me he knew this would be a big deal. There were some hurt feelings in my local discussion as it turned out that one mother's children had revealed to several others that there is no santa. We obviously cannot control what our children do or say, even though we must teach them to be respectful of differences, so I think the prospect of my kids "ruining" someone's Christmas experience is kind of stressful.

But I respectfully disagree with JMB, I think the modern incarnation of Santa does not have a long and storied common history unlike St. Nicholas in many other countries (I lived in Europe and my family hails from Poland where Santa is not a big deal, though gaining some ground). We also don't lie, but will tell our kids something is not their concern.

JMB said...

Lighten up folks! I knew my lying comment who catch fire. I will proudly lie to my kids if they ever asked me if I smoked a cigarette, smoked pot, drank beer, stayed out all night, cheated on a test, lied to my parents, etc. Basically, all the stuff that I did as a teenager and young adult. Anything that I have confessed to a priest that has been forgiven is off limits for my children.

Santa Claus is an American tradition, much more so than other incarnations of St. Nick. Old World, New World, both myths. But that's ok. The Puritans wanted to ban Christmas and Oliver Cromwell went ahead and did it.

Kat said...

Tex and Red, thank you so much for taking the time to articulate your thoughts and your family's Christmas traditions. You did a great job and I think that all of us can relate to different parts of what both of you said.

I wanted to mention that I just purchased a book called "A Special Place for Santa" at our local Catholic bookstore, along with an ornament of Santa kneeling beside the infant Jesus. Here is the general idea of the book: Santa Claus overhears two women talking about their displeasure that Christmas has become more about Santa and getting gifts than about Jesus' birth. Santa can't stop thinking about what these women said, and after delivering toys to each house, he makes his annual trip to a church with a Nativity scene so that he can be the first to wish Jesus a "Happy Birthday". This year, Santa's heart is heavy as he kneels to pray, when he hears God's answer to his prayer. God calls out, "Santa, St. Nicholas..." and then goes on to talk about how St. Nicholas, as bishop of Myra, spread God's love through his acts of charity.
"Everyone called me Nicholas back then," recalls Santa, as he goes on to remember his life as bishop. God reminds St. Nicholas that he is the patron saint of sailors, Russia, young marriageable maidens, and children. St. Nicholas remembers that he is known by many names, but that his most popular name is Santa Claus, and that his suit is red because of the red robes he wore as bishop. The book describes how Santa has been depicted by different cartoonists and poets over the years.

Finally, God thanks Santa for helping people all around the world to fill each others' hearts with joy and love on Jesus' birthday each year. The book ends with Santa kneeling in front of the Christ child to pray and offer his gift, which is a list of all of the acts of generosity that people have done for each other throughout the year.

I like the spirit of this book and will be reading it with my 5 year-old over the next few weeks. However, the issue still arises - Do we explain to our children that Santa and St. Nicholas are one in the same, or different figures? This book clearly wants to say that Santa is St. Nicholas, and that is how I have explained it to my son, but I can see how that is problematic from a logical point of view. Also, when children stop believing in Santa, I want them to still believe that there truly is a St. Nicholas who was bishop of Myra and did great things for God, but that he just doesn't come down the chimney and bring presents at Christmas.

Still thinking about this...Tex, much like you, our oldest is a thinker and looks for a logical answer to everything. My intuition is that he kind of knows that Santa is a story, but likes the magic and fantasy of it all so decides to ignore that part for now!

JD said...

I would just like to say that there IS such a person as SANTA. He DOES exist and to tell my own children otherwise would be a's my story....

19 years ago my father lost his job, there was no money, no car, no food, no heat, no clothes...we were losing everything... I was the eldest of 5 children at the time, ranging from 1-15 years of age. I was very aware of what was happening. My father was stressed, my mother a basket case. I could hear her crying behind closed doors...i remember like it was yesterday....

Christmas morning 1990...I awoke to tears of JOY

Heat was on, Food was in the kitchen, Mortgage had been paid, Presents galore (and I am not exaggerating probably about 100 or so)for all of us kids....

WHAT??? WHO??? HOW????

just a simple tag that read..."With Love, SANTA"

My family never met this generous soul, we never had an opportunity to say Thank You. To give a hug to show our gratitude. SANTA wanted to remain anonymous...i hear he does this every year to this day for families that are in desperate need....

What this generous person did for my family was a miracle, a gift a blessing. His tag said could of said St. Nick or your guardian Angel...either way it was Real. The joy, the hope, the relief felt was all Real.

SANTA does exist and no one will ever be able to tell me or my children otherwise.


Kris Livovich said...

I grew up not believing in Santa. We had stockings and plenty of presents under the tree. My mother was the only one to receive a gift from "Santa" - and it was always lingerie! At which point Santa would grin and we would all giggle!

We don't do Santa at our house, but my mother and father in law do. So my kids tell everyone that Santa doesn't come to our house. Then their eyes get wide and they whisper, "but he DOES go to Grandma and Grandpa's house!". Then my 6 year old pulls the person aside to murmur that Grandpa is also the Easter Bunny, Cupid and maybe The Tooth Fairy (but we're not sure about that).

I think there is a good place for magic in child's life. I think as long as Christ is honored first, then why not have some fun? We sin in judging other families for not doing it "our" way.

dejo said...

Here are a few of my thoughts...

Sometimes we think too much about things...Yeah, Santa is not real, but it is fun to pretend for a few years.

Lying is withholding the truth from someone who has the right to know. I just cannot equate pretending Santa exists with lying.

"Jesus said to the crowds:
'To what shall I compare this generation?
It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance,
we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said,
‘He is possessed by a demon.’
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said,
‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
But wisdom is vindicated by her works"

Let us celebrate the birth of "the Son of Man" with eating, drinking, and maybe a bit of Santa--unless it really bothers your soul

Bethany said...

I did not grow up Catholic. In fact I did not grow up in any religion
and I did not convert to Catholicism until I was 20 years old.
I was quite aware of the Nativity story, as well as small amounts of information on St. Nicholas. As a young child I morphed the stories of St. Nicholas with Jesus' birth and the three wise men bringing gifts. It became my own personal
plausibility for Santa Claus (and I didn't even need one). When it came to questions "How does Santa get down the Chimney?" or "How does he really have time to deliver presents to all the children in one night?" The answer of "It's [Santa's] magic."
or "It's a mystery." Sufficed.

Needless to say I am rather gullible and usually pretty clueless. It never
occurred to me that Santa didn't exist until I was 11 and in the 6th grade when my mother made the comment one day at breakfast (while my 5 year old sister was out of the room) "You do know that Santa isn't real, right?" I, of course not wanting to be ignorant, just nodded and said "oh, yeah." Then I went upstairs to my room and cried. It was devastating news, and it had nothing to do with being "lied to" by my

What was most upsetting for me was that there was no longer anything truly and remarkably special about that day. I mean, really, families can exchange gifts on any one of 365 days over the course of the year. But there was something different about Christmas, or at least there was supposed to be. The hope, the thought that there is someone out there who loves us so much that he comes to us and gives us gifts. Gifts that perhaps we thought we would never be able to receive, nor do we really
deserve, though we try hard as we can "to be good for goodness sake".
(Does this sound familiar?)

My children believe in Santa Claus, the whole 9 yards, flying reindeer, elves at the North Pole, the Twas the Night Before Christmas's jolly, old St. Nick. If my children ask a specific question about how Santa's feats are accomplished I simply
reply "Well what do you think?" They have many creative ideas about how Santa fits down the chimney and what the reindeer do during the rest of the year? Then again, my oldest, who is now showing signs of what may be a strong call to the priesthood in 10 years (he's 8), told his kindergarten teacher that God could exist
because no one could live in the clouds.

If they visit Santa or write a letter, they will ask him for something that they want which they may or may not get depending upon whether it's appropriate. After all, how many Hail Marys and Our Father's did I say, just today, praying that my husband was okay when he didn't call at a certain time and he had been driving for
several hours.(Of course at 32 weeks pregnant with number 4 everything worries me)

The children know that Christmas is Jesus's Birthday and it's not about getting presents. But Jesus's birth is exactly that - a present, a gift to the world; for he alone conquered death and to this day offers, to everyone who accepts and believes,
the gift of salvation. Give children credit, they're smart, smarter than most people think. For those of you who "do Santa" ask your children: aside from the presents you receive, why is Santa important and what does he mean for you and the world. Depending upon the age of the child, you may be surprised and even relieved, at the answers you hear.

Olivia D said...

What's funny about these posts is that before I read them and the two discussions on this blog, I didn't want to "do Santa." But now, I do. It is a tradition that I grew up with but not my husband (born and raised in Poland). At first I thought of it as purely secular and didn't want my children to take part. But reflecting upon my own childhood and these posts reminds me of something. When I was a child there was always that joy on Christmas morning of gifts that weren't there the day before and the stockings filled when they were empty the day before. It was magical, and I believed Santa had been there. I believed because I was told that it was real. As I grew older I slowly put 2 and 2 together and realized that Santa couldn't be real. I would confront my mom every Christmas and to this day she refuses to admit it, even as she helps me pick out "stocking stuffers" for my own children. I have never felt lied to because Santa does still exist for me. When I was young he was a man in a red suit with a beard and as I grew older he turned into a picture of my parents and their love for me. But the joy and the wonder has been constant. I will never tell my children that I am Santa, it breaks the spell, the magic that happens Christmas Eve as we remember the greatest gift ever given and the gifts that we share with one another.

We have a statue that my mom puts up every year that has Santa Claus kneeling, with his hat in hand, in front of the manger with Baby Jesus. This was Christmas for me growing up and it is what I want for my children, with the understanding that all traditions, all gifts, all love, are from God, and his Son Jesus.

You're right, its not a moral conundrum, it is simply something we do or dont do and it will be special and wonderful however we choose to do it, as long as Christ remains our focus.

Thank you for helping me clarify my own feelings on the subject.

Olivia D said...

One more thought I meant to post above.

When we were children we were told that Noah's Ark was a big boat with two of every animal and that God saved Noah and his family from a great flood, and then God sent a rainbow to show his love. As we grow older we realize that this probably didn't happen this way, or at all. BUT, I never felt lied to, it was simply a story told for a child to understand the love God has for his people. I think of Santa in this way. Again, I never felt lied to but my understanding changed as I grew older, my image of Santa changed, but he still existed.

Karen said...

We handle it by saying Santa is make-believe, and make-believe can be a lot of fun. My kids love telling Santa what they want for Christmas. My 5 year old told me the tooth fairy lives next to Santa Claus. Last year we made reindeer food and sprinkled it on the land Christmas Eve. We can be honest with them because anything can happen in make-believe.

Some parts of modern, American Santa that I personally do not like is his likeness to God, knowing who is good and who is bad. Also, I do not like it when parents threaten kids that unless they are good, they are not going to get any presents. Kids should honor God and their parents, not a jolly fat guy bearing presents:)
This is just my personal opinion, not meant to offend others, hence the :) face.

Our basic quest, or at least I assume, for all of us is to honor God with our lives. Doing Santa or not doing Santa does not make you a bad or good Christian. It is your heart that matters, and your children will witness your heart daily through your actions and words.

Mary Alice said...

Hi! I am joining in at this late date to say that I basically agree with Karen and Olivia. We do Santa, and the kids write to Santa, and Santa usually leaves a note back on Christmas morning. Frankly, I find it helpful to know what it is that they are hoping for, and the lists are not too bad becuase they don't watch commercial TV or spend lots of time in stores, the two places where advertising attacks children.

This year, Santa will fill stockings and give one large, wonderful family gift. Santa has had to cut back over the years becuase of the generosity of grandparents. I tried asking them to give less, but it didn't really work, so Santa is just doing things differently this year. We'll see how that works out. In past years we have tried to build gifts around the idea of "something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read" -- that worked really well as a buying guide for me and I may do that again in years when we are not giving one big gift to the entire family.

One great Christmas tradition has been that my children pick the name of a sibling and buy a gift for that person. They scheme and look forward to the giving even more than the receiving of this gift, and I hope it continues into adulthood. Frankly, I don't want them to feel, as young adults, that it is a burden to have to shop for five siblings. This way everyone gives and gets one great gift.

In my extended family, we make lists, and I really like that, it is a help to know what obscure city planning book my sister in law would like rather than picking a dud.

My oldest is very literal, though, and at some point, while I would prefer to wink at him about Santa, I think I will have to explicitly say that we make beleive about Santa but not about Jesus and the Real Presence. I want this to be abundantly clear to him.

I am quite struck that this has become a debate, to some extent, about truth and lying. In some cases, it is a great shock to a growing child to learn that parents have lived lies or life of hypocrisy. I do not think that we need to reveal scandalous past behavior at inappropriate times, but holding our children to a standard that we do not at least try for ourselves is wrong, and they will see that. Because we can only try, and because we do sin, there may be times when it is very important to share our own struggles or mistakes with our children. They will see with skeptical, young adult eyes, our imperfections, and they won't be nearly as angry if we haven't tried to pretend all along that we are perfect.

This is why, I think, going to confession as a family can be so important. The child needs to see that the adults make mistakes and seek forgiveness. There may also be circumstances when sharing ones own particular struggle or fault can be an important teaching tool. For example, as they get older, I plan to be very frank with my children about my own complicated relationship with alcohol and about the fact that I have done some things that I really regret while intoxicated.

Older children tend to catch us at small hypocrsisies, if we limit TV for them and turn it on as soon as they are in bed each night, or try to convince them to exercise when we do not, or more significantly if we are unfaithful in marriage or abusive in any way, they are going to see the lie in our life. I think that these sorts of lies are significant and may make a person really question the other things that a parent has taught, but I don't feel quite the same way about the fantasy of Santa, in part because I didn't react that way myself.

I have more thoughts about Advent and Christmas, though, so look for those in a post this week if my computer continues to cooperate!

Veritas said...


Jesus said (I forget where): "He who is dishonest in small things is dishonest in great things also."

I'm not saying parents can't equivocate or do make-believe. I'm just saying that the "white lie defense" is a slippery slope. It also doesn't jive w/ the 8th commandment.