As a veteran homeschool mom, I have great respect for any parent who bucks the system. When our oldest son lost his first tooth, our daughter was in the throes of a series of recurring nightmares involving a witch coming into her room. Sometimes this witch even blocked her door and prevented her escape to our bedside. We opted to skip the traditional Tooth Fairy routine and just handed our son a dollar for his tooth. We explained the Tooth Fairy was just a game some families played but we did not want to freak his little sister out at the prospect of yet another woman–no matter how benevolent– flying through her bedroom window.
Similarly, some families have chosen to handle Santa Claus as merely a game and not to steep their Christmas traditions in the believe/not believe mystique in which most of us were raised. Their argument is simple: If you teach children about Jesus alongside Santa, and one day announce that Santa is not real, it may damage their blossoming faith in Christ. I do not in any way condemn parents who have opted to skip the Santa myth as a part of their Christmas traditions. It is absolutely understandable to want to avoid lying to your kids by teaching them some chubby man in a red suit exists when you know he doesn’t. But for some reason I feel compelled this year to think through why it might have some positives.
Our Sunday school class recently finished up an excellent study of excuses the ‘younger’ generation is giving for leaving the church establishment. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church … And Rethinking Faith, is a fascinating look at the result of the Barna Group’s research on Christians who have abandoned their religion and sometimes even their faith. Themes included the shallow, disconnected, judgmental, repressive, anti-science atmosphere which is unfortunately the reality in many churches. Not once did I see any mention of these twenty-somethings questioning their faith because their parents lied to them about Santa Claus.
I am no psychologist or even a theologian, but in my limited parenting and teaching experience this is how I see it:
When children believe in Santa it’s fun! Can it be that simple? Stories of elves and flying reindeer and the ability to compress time–it’s not just fun, it’s fun on steroids. If you’re uncomfortable with Santa as just another way Western culture shifts the focus from the spiritual aspect of the holiday to the material, take advantage of some of the resources which tie the story of Kriss Kringle to biblical character lessons.
When children believe in Santa it builds anticipation. The God of Hebrew and Christian Scripture is a God of celebration. He lines out days, weeks, and seasons every single year to add rest, focus, and joy to our lives, and to remind us to celebrate the blessings he gives. We are told to gather with loved ones, give to the less fortunate, and eat great food. So much of the joy in the celebration comes in the expectancy, and the Jolly Old Elf just happens to be our culture’s ubiquitous reminder that Christmas is indeed coming.
When children believe in Santa it fuels their imagination. Most children who are of “believing” age probably also believe Spiderman is out fighting crime in their neighborhoods, and that their dolls party at night. We read books and watch movies with our impressionable youngsters where vegetables and household items talk, kids time-travel to Colonial America, and people morph into animals. When they want to pretend their Cheerios are life rafts filled with little people they are going to eat, we don’t fear they will grow up to be cannibals. We encourage the play. It’s how they learn. I guarantee no kid goes to college believing any of these things.
When children believe in Santa it teaches them generosity. Why would some stranger (and his army of pointy-eared helpers) spend his year in a workshop making toys for every kid on the planet? What would motivate such selflessness? If you are really struggling with finding a godly character lesson in the Santa myth, study its origins and talk about how his heart lines up with Scriptural principles on loving and giving.
When children believe in Santa it teaches them that good behavior is more likely to be rewarded than poor behavior. Extrapolating this lesson into the spiritual realm also holds water. Although salvation is a free gift and not to be earned, Scripture is clear that eternal rewards (and the lack thereof) are based on behavior. Hopefully you have never actually received a lump of coal, but the encouragement to behave because there is someone who can see every thing you do is a lesson many adults have yet to learn.
So what about you? Do you have any searing positive or negative memories of Father Christmas? What Santa traditions have you embraced or rejected with your family? Whatever your choice, Merry Christmas and God’s best for your new year!
(Check out my latest book, Prayers for the Mother of the Groom, as well as my best-selling homeschooling titles.)