Friday, December 12, 2014

The Santa Debate: Delving into the Whys...

I probably should have known that no good could have come from poking the sleeping bear that is the topic of Santa Claus when Christmas rolls around.

I thought it might be possible to write a post that talked about how we celebrate Christmas without getting into the whys... because for me the why is a personal decision that Paul and I agreed on more than half a decade ago, although anyone who's really curious could read one of the previous posts I wrote on one of those Decembers past when I was feeling less sleepy and more ready to defend my stance.

Unfortunately Santa seems to be one of those hot button topics like breastfeeding and cosleeping, where any post on the topic, even one that's simply about one's own personal experience, can turn ugly fast.  Because I think it is ugly to talk about how you think a strangers Christmas is going to be sad because they don't do thinks the same way that you do them.

Let me begin by reassuring everyone that Christmas around here definitely doesn't tend towards the sad.

It's joyous, with running and laughing and parents who are exhausted from staying up too late getting things ready and waking up at the crack of dawn, when those little voices start shouting to go downstairs.

Our kids don't count down the days, impatient for Christmas to arrive, because it's a bleak or sad celebration.

In fact I have to admit, over the last few years since we've downsized our Christmas celebration by necessity, with fewer presents and more focus on Advent and preparing for the coming celebration, Christmas has felt even more joyful.

In the comment section of the previous post there was plenty of speculation about why parents who don't "do Santa" make that choice.  Is it to be counter cultural and stand out?  One reader claimed that it was a sign of being "helicoptery and hypersensitive," which honestly I'm not sure I even understand in relation to the conversation (or the original post).

But after reading through today's comments, with the guesses on why parent's who don't "do Santa" make the choices that we make I felt compelled to answer... because pretty much every guess widely missed the mark.

As I said in my earlier post I don't really feel like we don't "do Santa."  Our kids learn about Saint Nicholas and we celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas at the beginning of December.  And we read stories about Santa and watch Christmas movies and treat the Santa and Reindeer myth just like any other fairy tale.  We just don't insist that it's real.

Our reason is pretty simple.  When we tell our kids that they should have faith in something that they can't see, we want them to be able to believe what we're saying.  And while I've been told over and over again that no one is ever confused or has their faith damaged by having been told that Santa is real, I've also heard from a number of people who tell the opposite story.

Is it likely or even common?  I don't think so.  But it was something that we considered.

It wasn't, however, the factor that solidified the decision.

I've heard a number of homilies about how lying, for any reason, is always a sin.  And when I imagined telling our kids that Santa had brought the presents I couldn't find a way to get around the fact that that simply wouldn't be true.  I'm sure there are people that will think that's over scrupulous but I couldn't get past it.

When I sat down and really thought about it, insisting that Santa brought the presents seems absolutely harmless, but it also felt like lying to me.

As I mentioned in the earlier post I think that this is a topic parents need to figure out for themselves.  People have different comfort levels with pretending.  And while I love playing and using our imaginations with the kids I've come to a different conclusion about where we draw the line with the way we explain fairy tales.

People celebrate in different ways.  I think the thing that I find the most disturbing about the way the conversation in the last post turned is that in this topic, which is so centered around imagination, falls short of imagining different joyous ways of celebrating the birth of Christ.

Christmas is joyful because of what it is.  We celebrate Jesus' arrival on Earth, the birth of the Messiah who has come to free us from our sins. To believe that that celebration is somehow made less joyful because a family isn't telling their kids about a man flying across the sky in a sleigh drawn by reindeer seems to miss the point.

The modern image of Santa is fun, but it certainly isn't necessary to the celebration of the welcoming of our savior to the Earthly plain.  I suggest continuing through this Advent season by resolving to give others the benefit of the doubt.  Let's try to believe that perhaps others aren't making choices for their families to be different or stand out, but rather because they believe they're doing what's best for their family.


  1. I think you put it very clearly and succinctly--when we teach our children to have faith in something, we want them to trust us. And yes, I have heard of children having their faith ruined by learning Santa is not real. My own nephew, when he found out Santa was not real, said to my husband, "My dad told me Santa was real but he's not. I don't know whether to believe him about God anymore." I don't know why, but nobody ever, ever believes me when I tell them this story. It's one of the main reasons we opted to not teach our kids that Santa is real.

    At the same time we are very respectful of other families' traditions, and tell our children that it is not their job to tell other kids about Santa. When they are asked "What did Santa bring you?" they reply nicely, "Oh, for St Nicholas Day I got X" or "I got X on Christmas".

  2. I think people make way too big a deal of this. I doubt anyone needed years of counseling whether they grew up with Santa or not. We don't "do Santa" but we enjoy him thoroughly. I follow his sleigh on NORAD and have decorations of him around the house. I just asked my nearly 10 yr old if knowing that Santa didn't come down the chimney and bring presents ruins Chritsmas for her. She said no. She thinks the controversy is silly.

  3. I think people just get a little exasperated with the current culture of helicopter moms defining themselves by all the things they "don't do." Oh, we don't do screens, plastic toys, diapers, vaccines, spanking, gluten, sweets, sleepovers, pacifiers, regular school, babysitters, conventionally grown produce, Santa, Halloween, the word no, microwaves, cribs, characters, Disney, etc. etc. etc.

  4. The thing is that as parents we all have things that we do or don't do. We all make choices in our parenting. The lines are drawn in different places.

    I'm not sure why, with so many parenting decisions, someone else drawing the line somewhere different than we do somehow becomes grounds for condemning them or sneering... but it seems very popular to do just that.

    I guess I'm of the mind that if it's not harming the children it's not worth worrying about (and I don't think the vast majority of those things you mentioned could be argued as harmful). I just really don't understand why people concern themselves so, so much over whether someone else does use a certain type of diaper, have baby sitters or let their kids watch Disney. I like to give them the benefit of the doubt that they've thought it out and are doing what's best for their children, who let's face it, they know better than you or I do.

    In other words I can read a post about a choice that parents have made who send their kids to public school and think that that's the right choice for them and that it is a good choice, while at the same time knowing that it's not the right choice for my family.

    Then again, I think our world would be pretty boring if we all made the same choices... and that we'd be poorer for it.

    So while maybe I understand the use of "helicopter parent" in this, given your explanation, I just think it's wrong.

  5. Cam: right there with ya. Though we plan on doing Santa, we'll do him the way my parents did both him and the Easter Bunny: as a sort of fun, tongue-in-cheek game with the kids. I mean, neither of them ever said he *didn't* exist, but they also didn't talk much about him except for the fun stuff surrounding the myth: waking up to stockings on Christmas morning, leaving out cookies (and a carrot for the reindeer!) the night before, etc.

    Even as an adult, the friends with whom I spent Christmas "did" Santa--meaning that my friends and I would go to Midnight Mass, and then come back home to their place where their parents would inform us, "Huh, whaddaya know? Santa stopped by while you were at Mass and left your stockings for you!"--whereupon we'd drink chocolate milkshakes, open our stockings, and have a grand time. Of COURSE as college students we didn't believe in Santa, but it was still fun to pretend just like when we were kids.

    I think I'd figured out Santa by the time I was six or seven, but I still loved the game.

    But, as you say--if someone does something different from you, it doesn't mean it's wrong! Though I've increasingly seen this mommy-war culture of competition that says that if you don't do X (feeding/diapering/playing/whatever) EXACTLY the same way as I do, you're an inferior mom...and that's just plain idiotic, because some things work for some families and other things for others, and if they didn't--yep, it would get pretty boring!

  6. Oy vey! So much controversy!

    I wasn't going to comment again about this, because I guess it's just a matter of preference and what someone does in their own family. When I was little we put the tree up on Christmas Eve. This is the way my parent's parents did it, and I think it stems from keeping Advent until Christmas Eve. But during the years I was a kid people began putting up their tree be sooner and sooner after Thanksgiving, and we thought others were odd because they didn't wait, and they thought our family was odd because we did wait. So. We still do it our way and I think it's best. Yes, it's messy. But we have a blast in our family with our group activity of decorating the tree together: all the laughing and talking and eating and remembering and yes, every once in a while a little one drops and breaks an old ornament, and everyone kind of shrugs and accepts that as part of the reality of Christmas. (What I really love is when it happens the first time, and the kid turns around in shock and horror, so sorry and waiting to be yelled at, and everyone just goes on with what they're doing, (except maybe their mom who tells them to be careful), and someone gets a broom and dustpan and picks it up and it's just okay. I love that. I love it because it sends the message that they are a lot more important than an ornament, even an old precious one.)

    So I guess we all do what works for us. But it seems with the advent of the internet, more insistence about right and wrong traditions come in. And so rather than sharing with someone in person that we don't "do Santa" and them reacting, maybe disagreeing, at least it's an "in person" interaction that can resolve with good will on all sides. But it seems the impersonal internet can make it all sound like a angry debate.

    That's too bad. Because it's about to be Christmas. It's full of joy no matter what you're traditions are.

    God bless. ~ Bonnie


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