Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Does Santa make the baby Jesus cry? (and other Christmas questions)

After a nice dinner with two other couples last week, the Anti-Claus conversation began.

"Why won't we do the Santa thing?" our host asked, "because we don't lie to our kids. Also, I've read an account of a guy who said it was after his parents told him Santa wasn't real that he lost his belief in God. He sees you all the time, he knows if you're good, and lets you know to be good 'for goodness sake.' Freaky"

Heavy stuff. If the man doesn't want to lie to his kids, I can't argue with that. Does losing the Santa magic cause most kids to doubt God? Its possible I suppose, but I doubt that its common. They say they celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas, and leave it at that. They put up only some decorations at a time, so that their advent is a continual build up to Christmas, not all at once a few days after Thanksgiving. Of course, they also celebrate Christmas for all eight nights like the liturgical calendar calls for too. Not a bad plan really.


I loved Santa Claus while it lasted. Let me put it in perspective for you: Not only were the milk and cookies out, but as bedtime approached and the precious few minutes of Christmas Eve were quickly passing by, I was busy consulting my parents as to the final touches of that years full-proof alarm system that would help me wake up and see Santa doing his thing. Even if that plan didn't work, nothing compared to seeing the "evidence" that Santa had indeed come to your house and not only dropped off presents, but had also eaten the cookies specially selected and laid out for him. When the year came that Santa didn't make his visit, there was no love lost. I was old enough to know by then.


Why the big difference of opinion between the Pro and Anti-Clausers? Obviously, focus is the foremost issue. If Jesus is the reason for the season, why the need for a fat man who breaks into your house to give you stuff? If you know the story of St. Nick (linked earlier in the post) you understand his association with Christmas and giving. Its also easy to see the transformation from Saint of Myrna to the Patron of Retailers (He's not, its actually Lucy of Syracuse. Go figure). Butshould Santa Claus be usable for Catholics in our day and age? Doesn't it lead to a loss of focus on Jesus?

I think it worth mentioning that there is no inherent evil in the use of Santa. Its said that the Santa as we know him came from St. Nicholas. Some folks like to claim he also comes from the German pagan god of war Odin as well, but I haven't found any good evidence for that myself. You know those silly gods of war, leaving kids presents in their stocking and eating cookies by the fire. However, like I said, the Santa myth is not inherently evil nor does it tend to evil or away from goodness ("be good for goodness sake"). Its all in the use of the thing. You can use him as an example of Christian giving, or an example of worldly materialism. To finish up, here's one guy's account of how his parents handled it:

"On the "Santa controversy," my own parents struck what has always seemed to me an ideal stance: Every year we read "The Night Before Christmas" and watched "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Babes in Toyland," so Santa was definitely a part of our domestic culture, but we never did the milk and cookies routine, and on Christmas morning the presents were always accurately labeled "From Mom & Dad" or "From Grandma & Grandpa," etc.

In short, my parents never made a big deal one way or the other about Santa's reality: They never went out of their way to tell us "Santa isn't real," any more than they went out of their way to tell us that Felix the Cat or Spider-Man weren't real. Santa was just one more character in our imaginative landscape. But they also never told us that Santa was real, and never acted like he was.

That's more or less what I've done with my own kids, except that Sarah, our oldest, has always insisted on absolute clarity about what is and isn't real, and explicitly wanted to know right away if Santa was real, so we had to tell her -- and then we also had to tell her that SOME parents DO tell their kids about Santa Claus WITHOUT telling them that he isn't real, and whatever we may think of that, it's not our place to tell those children otherwise. (As a very young child Sarah was always offended and upset when adults would ask her what Santa was bringing her. And she did NOT like the mall Santas AT ALL.)

But we still read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" with our kids, and this year we're watching Babes in Toyland from Netflix."



Next time:
Is giving gifts immoral?

No comments: