Monday, December 26, 2005

To Santa or not?

Over at Touchstone's Mere Comments there is an interesting Thomastic discussion about telling our kids about Santa.

It starts with something I've often heard, that telling them is lying to them and we shouldn't ever lie to our kids.
I thought it was cute. Not a "true" Thomastic argument, but still cute.

I bought into the "its a lie" think years ago, and so we never "did" Santa.

This year, after watching The Polar Express, I wish I had.


Karen E. said...

I recently had a great discussion (ala C.S. Lewis) with my oldest about how "magic" can point us to God, by making us keenly aware of the longing we have for things not of this earth.

We've done the magic of Santa, and I do have to say that I'm glad we did.

Nancy C. Brown said...

Yes, true. All I could think of was the shock kids feel when they find out it isn't all real, and they feel (some of them, anyway) that they've been duped all these years.

We try to emphasize St. Nick, and that he brings the gifts, and that is where our current Santa comes from, etc. But we never had presents that said, "From Santa" because I just couldn't do that.

Karen E. said...

Yes, I completely understand, Nancy. Ironically, we started out with me thinking I wasn't going to do Santa for the reasons you named. At age 3, my oldest looked a little blankly at people who asked her what Santa was going to bring. Then, she sort of initiated it (in Kindergarten, I think) and I had reached a point of deciding that the magic of it all would be okay, and it has all worked out fine. We emphasize St. Nick a lot, too, and he brings gifts on his feast day as well as on Christmas.

2nd grade mom said...

[a few quotes from the article]:

"[The practice of the Santa Claus tradition] helps cultivate those imaginative powers in children upon which the depth and richness of human knowledge depend, such as a sense of mystery and wonder, and therefore makes them more receptive to the supernatural mysteries of the faith."

"... a failure to cultivate children’s imaginations with Fantasy makes them vulnerable to scientism and rationalism, and damages their ability to appreciate the mysteries of the faith. As stated above, in the practice of the Santa Claus tradition, children are given a concrete experience of mystery, wonder, and happiness, which in some sense is a participation in and preparation for the mysteries of the faith."


I realize that this is a light-hearted article, but here is my personal experience:

Unfortunately, much of my faith in things religious collapsed after I found out that Santa was pretend -- something just for children to believe in. (I guess I was/am a natural skeptic). So I thought all the rest of it was just for children too: angels, guardian angels, saints, devotion to Mary, miracles. And this was reinforced from the pulpit, especially right after Vatican II.

I feel the concept of religious devotions being for children was also partly reinforced in my mind by childish religious art in catechisms and devotional books -- at school and at home. Perhaps this was most of the religious art I was exposed to at the time.

I would say it took fifteen or more years before I was able to believe in the existence of and/or value of devotion to holy beings other than God (and God's Son, Jesus), and some of it mostly intellectually, not with fondness and feeling. I still dislike a lot of art and devotional materials developed specifically for children. I do believe in miracles now, and have experienced many personal blessings from God and answers to specific prayer.


"As stated earlier, the Santa Claus tradition is rooted in the Christian practice of celebrating and commemorating the fourth-century saint, Nicholas of Myra. While it is true that the modern practice of the Santa Claus tradition furthers consumerism and obscures the meaning of Christmas, Christians need not abandon religious practices because they have been usurped by secularization. To the contrary, the recovery and purification of this tradition of Santa Claus, who is best remembered for his life of selfless (and anonymous) giving, can be a powerful means of combating both consumerism and secularism and restoring Christian culture."


My way of dealing with Santa Claus is to Christianize him and root him firmly in history. We read every year about the origins of Santa Claus. We also read a few of the light-hearted secular Santa Claus books. I allow my daughter to visit him at the Mall. We read and talk about Saint Nicholas. This year she realized that Santa is a man dressed up as Saint Nicholas. I think she began to notice this last year. And last year when she told me that Santa had promised her some gift, I told her, "You can't believe everything you hear." Previously Santa had promised her a toy soldier and never followed through ;) .

Unfortunately in the recent past, my experience of secular Santas has been that they were pushing Barbie dolls on my 3-yr.-old daughter. This didn't particularly please me. I do realize they were well-meaning, but I still didn't care for it.

We don't pretend the gifts are either from St. Nicholas or Santa, but they are from us and friends and relatives. My daughter enjoys playing with Santa toys and decorations. I told her that St. Nicholas gave things to poor people, and that Santa (as often happens) gives toys to poor children. We have plenty of toys and are not poor, so Santa doesn't need to come to our house.

I have encouraged her to make a gift and give it to Santa. (He is such a generous guy). She has done this a couple times, and he appreciated it. She in turn gets some candy or a small gift. I think this experience of Santa is good enough without any pretense.

The Tooth Fairy -- we don't go there. She once thought a young friend was lying to her about the Tooth Fairy coming to give her money. I explained that her friend really believed this. I told her the parents put the money there and pretend it is the Tooth Fairy, for fun.

We do enjoy reading lots of fairy tales and currently the Chronicles of Narnia.

margot said...

My own personal experience was quite different. I believed in Santa as a child and that was cultivated by my mother who also told us stories about little fairies and gnomes. Santa was in that class of creatures. My realization that Santa wasn't "real" did not shock or surprise or upset me . . . it was a kind of slow dawning. It did not turn me from my faith, nor make me disbelieve any of it. I'm not sure why. I never thought I'd been lied to - it was a game that I could now be part of in a different way. I love that storybook fairy quality of my childhood.

All the same, my husband and I did not introduce our children to Santa in the beginning. And it wasn't because we didn't want to lie to them. We just wanted the focus of Christmas to be on Christ and family. But slowly from store displays and the comments of relatives, my children figured it out. Now we celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas and the children know that the Santa everyone talks about -- the Santa of "The Polar Express" book -- is a take-off on the real Saint. It is a rich tradition, and, despite all the sickening commercialization, is part of storyland and magic. It is certainly not necessary, but serves the imagination the way any good fantasy does.