Would I teach MY kids about Santa?
For the reading audience, this comes as part three of a themed week focus on the tension between celebrating Christmas, as specifically Santa, alongside the advent of the Messiah.
For those of you who have not read John’s misnomer article titled “Why I Wouldn’t Teach my Kids About Santa” posted earlier this week, I would recommend giving it a read. In fact, it is the starting point from which these musings travel. It is a question that needs an answer- and the arguments and reasons that take families to their respective answers are many. I believe that John’s perspective on the discussion brings in a very important matter, as he examines how this decision could potentially play a pivotal role in establishing or debunking a parent’s trustworthiness in the eyes of his or her child.
Yet another reason many parents avow to keep Santa and Red-Nosed Reindeer far from their children has to do with their concern over these fantasies potentially overshadowing the incarnation of Christ during this season. “Even if we teach our kids NOT to believe in Santa,” the argument goes, “even letting Santa into our holiday décor and the routine of Christmas steals the spotlight from the advent of the Messiah.”
Legitimate concerns. What is the effect Santa can have on displacing Christ from Christmas?
What I would like to explore today is not how we would answer this from a child development perspective. My ponderings this Christmas have me thinking how much “Santa” keeps Christ displaced from our Spiritual lives during the advent season.
Is the jolly red Father of Christmas Spirit really so dangerous? Perhaps he can be.
Who is Santa, and what does he represent?
I’ll appeal to Caleb’s research to remind that, although the tradition is rich and multifaceted, much of today’s Santa comes from the Dutch Tradition of Sinterklaas. From hence we get the notion of gift giving to good children, and something undesirable for misbehaving ones. But even more ancient is the memory that St. Nicholas of Myra has a reputation for gift giving and charity, and that many pre-Christian winter time festivals incorporated gift giving at the conclusion of the agricultural year.
Is Santa a threat for displacing Christ out of Christmas?
So, who is Santa? Given this historical gloss, and looking side to side at what we see around us, I think it’s not a leap to understand Santa and what he embodies as a predominant concern for gift giving and exchanging. What was once the fruit of the harvest fields has with time become food and feasting, health-threatening treats, toys and gifts for children, injected with the hyper-inflating influence of American commercialism over the last century, gives us the “Spirit of Santa” today: a frenzied, obsessive, and season-consuming cultural expectation to out-give and/or out-receive your fellow man. As the news reports following tragedies of the last few Black Fridays (which includes, pepper-spray attacks, muggings, and even the killing of fellow shoppers), Santa has wrought a “dog-eat-dog” world that imposes stress and distraction unlike any other time on the calendar.
And the research confirms this. And online poll suggests that 40% of respondents experienced increased levels of stress and anxiety around Christmas. 25% had increased feelings of depression. And older poll in the UK finds that 65% find Christmas shopping a painful experience.
And that’s just looking at how “Santa” creeps in and darkens our psyche. Factor in the financial devastation this cultural craze induces, and the damage is more concerning: 21% of those surveyed in an online poll in 2008 will face difficulty paying for food, and 19% difficultly with the utility bills in January because of Christmas spending. 20% will have problems paying their rent or mortgage. Over 50% admit to spending more than they could afford on Christmas.
Remembering that family finances battles with “sex” for the top two spots in reasons for marital disunion and divorce, and the relational component of Christmas carnage can been seen as well. Want more statistics? January 8th is the business day of the year for divorce lawyers when almost one in five couples will inquire about divorce after the pressures of Christmas. The managing director of a third survey stated, “We were very surprised to see that it was thought to be a more traumatic experience than working, visiting the dentist or looking after a crying baby, things which usually have people pulling their hair out.”
Now, what about Jesus?
Now, the data above may not be the most accurate. In fact, considering the unknown sample sizes of some or efforts at setting control groups, much is likely skewed. And there are numerous other explanations for why January makes it rain divorce paperwork for America.
But, it there is but a sliver of truth to some of this, and if you are like me, you can even resonate with the stress and the distraction of Christmas’ expectation in your own life, it begs me to ask:
Does the Spirit of Santa influence our lives in such a deep psychological and Spiritual way that our health and relationships, and above all, our spiritual health and relationship with Jesus, is damaged more than we think?
I know it’s anecdotal, but my life can certainly testify to this reality.
The irony is curious- as we celebrate the “advent,” the distractions of Christmas “traditions” can make one feel more like Jesus and the perceived presence of God is going, rather than coming, to us, and the reaches of our soul.
So, would I teach my kids about Santa?
The reality is that if I don’t, someone else will. So, why not be the one to explain the Santa folklore, and how people think of it as something fun, yet not in fact real. Now you next question is probably “considering what you’ve shared, will you villainize Santa?” No, I don’t think it’s necessary or helpful to do that either. And just like John, I’ll admit- I’m a sucker for many of these holiday traditions and reminiscent associations as well.
But as a future parent, this DOES lead me to the conviction that if what was said above is true, “Santa” and the rest of non-Christian Christmas is something to be cognoscente of, and even better, prepared to confront year in and year out. In fact, I contend that it would be irresponsible as a parent to think that multitudes of nativity scenes, “Hark the Harold playing on the radio, the Spirit of Christmas generosity, and even church Christmas traditions, cantatas, and pageants, will automatically help us worship and be transformed when we remember “God with us.” The stressors and temptations of Christmas are too grave and real a matter to be flippantly swept under the rug. Instead, I see it as my parenting responsibility to be prepared to lead my family in inwardly being guarded against and to self-examine for evidence of these disillusionments, and remind that it takes intentionality to direct one’s mind and soul on the infant cries of a newborn king.
Will I explain who Santa is? Of course. Will I attempt to get them to believe in him? No. But the next step, I believe, is to teach about how Christmas ” ’tis the season” for actually letting our hearts wander farther from worshiping Christ than perhaps any other time of year.
 As you can see, John is actually quite supportive of Teaching his kids about Santa Clause- he just doesn’t want to try to convince them to believe in the legitimate existence of Father Christmas. Way to bait and switch us, Mr. Dunne.