Tuesday, December 14, 2010

No, Virginia, there is not a Santa Claus



Welcome to the December Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let's Talk Traditions



This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama.

Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


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Okay, silly title. Especially coming from someone who still believes in Santa Claus. Not only do I know, as a Catholic and someone who studied history, that there was a bishop named Nicholas of Myra who threw presents down someone's chimney (and also supposedly punched the heretic Arius in the face at the council of Nicea), but I also happen to like the jolly old elf of art and poetry. I have "A Visit From St. Nick" ("Twas the night before Christmas") almost memorized. As a child, I believed so fervently in Santa that when my mom said he wasn't real, I refused to believe her and told her that, no matter what she said, I would always believe in Santa.

Then I got married. And my husband told me that there was not a snowball's chance in a cup of hot chocolate that we would be doing Santa, ever, at all. He says Santa is a symbol of the commercialization and secularization of Christmas, a substitute for Jesus. And when half the streets in the center of town were closed Friday night for everyone to see Santa arriving in town on the commuter train -- blocking our way home from the train station -- he was heard to describe the "jolly old elf" in a few choice words I wouldn't repeat.

At first I argued. I tried to come up with compromises. I agreed that there was no way I was fighting my way through a mall crowd to force a crying child to sit on the lap of a white-bearded stranger, but couldn't we at least do stockings? A couple Santa presents? That poem I like so much?

But this year, the first year it actually matters, I find I agree with him. I'm not quite sure when that happened. All I know is, when I told my students we weren't doing Santa, they were in an uproar. They said I was cheating the baby of his chance to enjoy Christmas. And one kid shouted out, "Baby, Santa is as real as GOD!"

I suddenly realized this is not what I want for my child. I don't want him thinking Santa is as real as God, so if I lied to him about one, I might lie about the other. For his own good/so he could have the experience/for pretend ... it doesn't really matter, does it? If I lie, I can't be trusted. Kids aren't so good with the distinctions there.

Also, Santa's for kids. If Santa is 90% of what Christmas is (and he does become that, somehow), then Christmas is for kids. Not grown-ups. Santa doesn't bring us presents. So does that mean we should just stress out and go nuts over getting all the presents for the kids, and then sit back and enjoy Christmas vicariously? If that's the point, are we just telling the kids about Santa so that we can have the kind of Christmas we remember?

I have always found Christmas to be magical. The lighted tree, the surprises, the look on a family member's face when they open my gift for them, Midnight Mass, the nativity scene ... it's all real. Since Santa was only ever a small part of Christmas to me, nothing has been "spoiled" about Christmas as I've grown up, even though "Santa" presents no longer appear under my tree.

Another problem with Santa is that he's about getting, not giving. Santa's the guy who gives you presents that you don't have to write a thank-you note for. (That actually bothered me when I was a kid -- I wondered why my mom didn't make me write a note to him, too!) And you don't have to give a present to him in return. I think it's much better for kids to focus, as much as possible, on giving. So everyone who gives my son a present, he will someday be able to give presents to as well. I loved giving presents as a child; it was really exciting to see if they would like my gift!

The one thing I was worried about missing was the idea of mystery presents. Things that just sort of appeared, that seemed magic. These can happen at any age, by the way. One year, when we were VERY short on money (sometime I should blog about my family's adventures with almost running out of money), we got a card in the mail with a grocery store gift card in it, signed "Santa." I love that. The person who sent it didn't want to be recognized or thanked; they wanted us to understand that God was providing for us.

Years later, my mom sent out her own "Santa" gift card to a friend in need, at least once. She didn't want to make her friend feel awkward or indebted -- just to receive what she needed. And I've done similar things myself. When we got snowed in a couple of Christmases ago and couldn't go out to get a tree, I waited till everyone had gone to bed, snuck outside, and gathered pine branches to set up and decorate like a tree. I told the little kids that Santa had done it. My mom has told them all that Santa is pretend, but they got really into it all the same: "Did he carry it on his sleigh? Did he know we were snowed in? Look, he even put our ornaments on it!" Or, a Christmas when my mom was really tired and went to bed without doing the dishes on Christmas Eve, she woke up to find the kitchen all clean. "Thank you, Sheila," she said to me fervently, but my answer was, "Who, me? Elves did this!"

However, you don't need Santa to do this. You can always give mystery presents. I think I'll encourage that -- giving a few presents and saying, "The person wanted to give you a present in secret, so they wouldn't be thanked." And then, a few years later, encouraging him to do the same to others: "What's something we can do for someone in secret, because it's Christmas?" I'll tell him, of course, about the wise men and the shepherds, how they gave things to baby Jesus, and how when we give things to others, we're doing it for Jesus.

All the same, I'm hoping we can make Christmas about more than presents for him. Going to church on Christmas morning (or Christmas Eve), perhaps doing something extra for the poor, singing carols, setting out the nativity scene, all of these mean so much more than Santa ever will. That's the gift I'd like to give him for his Christmases growing up.






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15 comments:

Dreamingaloudnet said...

I love the idea of Santa gifts as and when people need them, and by surprise. We lived in Japan for 6 months and there was a homeless community that lived under the bridges. When we were leaving I left my warm coat with a substantial roll of bank notes in the pocket. I always wonder how it was to find them...I hope someone found them!

But as for us, we do Santa, I think it's magical and even after I have spent the evening packing their stockings I still get excited and can't sleep wondering about the magic that happens on Christmas night.

Lucy

http://dreamingaloudnet.blogspot.com

Heather said...

I love the idea of secret gifts and instilling the belief that Christmas is for giving, not getting. As someone who did not grow up following any formal religion, I still understood the spirit of Christmas, only without the "doing it for Jesus" part. Instead, it has been doing it for a love of family and friends and fellow humankind. Which is, I guess, the same for many people.

Thank you for this beautiful post! You really broke down your reasons for/against the whole Santa concept well. And I find myself wanting to enact a few surprise gifts myself this year!

Asha @ Meta Mom said...

This is an interesting take on the Santa thing - and I love reading about different approaches. So glad you posted this!

Amy @ Anktangle said...

Thanks for sharing your perspective on Santa. I really love the idea of continuing to give secret gifts without having to keep up with the Santa myth. Thanks for sharing!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Oh, we should have joined forces as children, Sheila. I was well on my way to being Santa's defense attorney, with witnesses to call to the stand and everything!

But I won't "do the Santa thing," either, when my own turn comes. There's something about the way he has taken over that reminds me of Elizabeth I making herself a substitute for Mary.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I love the idea of mystery gifts and acts of service, even without Santa. We aren't doing Santa either - at least in the traditional way - so I've been looking for ways to make sure Kieran still finds the holidays magical without the big Santa story. Thank you for sharing!

Amyables said...

That was an interesting take on Santa! I loved the story about how your kids still got into the Santa magic with the tiny Christmas tree you built, even though they "knew" that Santa wasn't real. I think that's the kicker. No matter what we decide for our families, or what our kids are told, kids have the creative spirit to make anything real for themselves - so unless we put that light out, they'll pretend and play and love the magic of things forever.

Reading your post I realized that it doesn't really matter whether a family decides to "do" Santa or not, or to "do" Santa in a non-traditional way. . . kids will always believe what they want to believe for as long as is appropriate for them individually. That is, as long as that creative spirit is encouraged and nurtured, instead of snuffed out.

Thanks for a different point of view! I enjoyed it!

Heather said...

On the idea of holiday traditions, thought this might be fun and cute: http://thepioneerwoman.com/homeschooling/2009/12/wooden-block-nativity/

Kristen @ Adventures in Mommyhood said...

We don't do Santa either and I find it odd that people assume we are taking away all the magic and fun of the holidays. Like you said, there are so many magical parts of Christmas -- I especially remember just sitting and staring at the Christmas tree and lights for hours as a child.

I like the idea of a "Santa" mystery gift.

Thanks for sharing! It's always interesting to read about others who don't do Santa, especially if the reasons are different.

BluebirdMama said...

I really enjoyed your story of how you came to your position on Santa - so often it's either that someone didn't do Santa as a kid or that they were terribly hurt and disillusioned when they found out the truth. Your post shows a well reasoned and thoughtful approach from someone who knows both sides of the issue personally.

I also like your point that if we make Christmas about Santa, we kind of take the holiday away from adults - I personally like Christmas more every year older that I get. I would be so sad if I could only enjoy it vicariously through my kids.

Thanks for your post.

Sheila said...

@Kristen: The lights were always the most magical part for me. We usually put up our tree close to Christmas Eve, and didn't keep it lit till Christmas morning, so it was a huge thrill to come down in the morning and find the house dark but the tree blazing. I would just sit and gaze at it! And my mom liked to take us on drives to see the pretty lighted houses, too, while playing Christmas music. I loved that!

@Enbrethiel: I know exactly what you mean. I think St. Nicholas would be quite upset to find out more people were celebrating him on Christmas than were celebrating Jesus!

Charlemagne said...

Of course, the problem is that your kids are not going to understand that chapter in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", or enjoy Tolkien's "Father Christmas Letters." But other than that, your idea is so counter-culturally unique, I'm tempted to give it a try.

Sheila said...

Well, at some point we are definitely going to explain the "Santa game" or "Santa legend." We're just not going to try to make him believe Santa brings the gifts. So I'm sure he'll be able to figure it out in things he reads, by the time he's old enough to read them.

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

This is such an interesting and well-thought-out working through of the Santa dilemma. I love hearing how much you enjoyed Santa growing up and how you want to pass that enjoyment on to your kids — but I'm with you on not wanting to lie to my kids or equate Santa with invisible things that are true. I think we've decided to talk about Santa as a fun story but not make a big deal of him at home; even though it was fun to set out cookies and receive secret presents from him, I worry about the transition from believing in him to realizing it was all untrue. And so many of the other points you bring up I hadn't even thought about, yet I can see how important they are as well.

That's a great idea to think that secret gifts can still happen, though. I think that will be a fun experiment, to see how we could enjoy secret gifts without Santa behind them. I know my friends and I always enjoyed May Day as children, because we would pluck flowers from some blooming trees in our neighborhood and leave them on friends' doorsteps, ring the bell, and run. The card would say the present was from the May Day Faeries. :) Obviously, none of us literally believed in fairies, but it was such a fun way to honor some of the beloved people in our lives without looking for thanks in return.

Write About Birth said...

You're such a great writer - thank you for sharing your perspective on Christmas, and I loved the letter to your dad too! Mystery Christmas presents that are not quite as mysterious as "Santa presents" are a truly wonderful idea. We don't do Santa either, and I think the secret gifts idea is one that I'll introduce too. Thanks for inspiring me!

Olivia

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