Over at Patheos, my colleague Dr. Jenell Paris takes on the Santa myth. Jenell is an anthropologist and sociologist, and takes a look at parts of the debate that I haven’t heard before. For background, I grew up in a house that acknowledged that there was a Santa myth, but it was always (from the earliest years of life) a fictional story. The myth was never proposed as fact, other than the real St. Nicholas on which Santa is (very loosely) based. Joy and I have continued this with our kids. We have no gifts from Santa. Actually, most of our gifts are associated with Hanukkah, and Christmas is all about Jesus’ birth. We give the kids pajamas on Christmas eve that they are allowed to wear to bed that night, in anticipation of our morning celebration. After the morning of reading the story and celebrating, we head to my sister’s house to share time with family, and exchange gifts with them. We try, as much as we can, to remind the kids that the giving of gifts to our family is more important than what we might get from our family.
The argument against the Santa story that I am most familiar with is that kids will associate the story of Santa and the story of God. When the former is admitted to be fiction, children may begin to assume that the latter is as well. I have become less concerned with this over the years, but I don’t like the precedent of lying to my kids about anything. I tell my kids to tell the truth, and punish them for intentionally lying to me. How can I, as a parent, turn around and lie to them about Santa? We talk about what is true and what is not a lot in our house. Spiderman is not real. Rapunzel is not real (see my review of Tangled, Disney’s Rapunzel story). The story of Jesus is real. Pocahontas is based on a real story, but it didn’t happen like Disney tells it. Santa is not real either.
Where Jenell adds to the debate is that she reminds us that the Santa story, when told as non-fiction, disconnects kids from reality. For many parents, there is a lot of sacrifice and love behind those gifts. Why would we want to credit an imaginary person with that love, and hide the sacrifice? She also points out that Santa ends up being like God (he knows who is naughty and nice), but without the judgment (worst case: coal, not eternal damnation). Do we really want to set up a scenario where kids are more worried about what Santa thinks of them and disappointing him, than they are concerned about God and His love for them?
Interestingly, Jenell feels that the Easter Bunny is a much less worrisome story for kids, since it is more obviously silly and impossible. We don’t endorse that story in our house, but I can see her point. That doesn’t mean we’re going to have the Easter Bunny around next year, but at least it will rub me the wrong way a little less if someone else does. 😉
What are your Santa related traditions? How did you deal with the loss of the non-fiction Santa affect you, if at all? What have those of you who are parents found to be helpful or hurtful in this process with your own kids?