Santa Claus, Just Another Great Fantasy Fiction

The holiday season always creates a strange dichotomy, secular celebration versus religous rejoicing. With very small children, I am often torn between the obvious conflict of the concept of Santa Claus and whether I should expose my children to the mystical fantasy surrounding Christmas.

While it is imperative that they learn about the birth of Jesus Christ, understand that the holiday is a celebration of that blessed day, and a day to give thanks to God for the most precious, most intimate gift that could be offered to the world, there may be a benefit to the Santa Claus story. Is it possible that the idea of Santa Claus is nothing more than a fantasy fiction character, created to encourage good behavior in children? If they are good they will reap a benefit, if not, well, coal in the sock. But, what actual benefit, if any, could Santa Claus really have on children? The concept that a strange man will enter their house bearing gifts may not be comforting to some. As an African American woman, there is also the cultural emhpasis recently, (past 10 years), to celebrate Kwanzaa instead, or along with. More importantly, the focus on gifts and material things drastically narrows the actual purpose of the holidays, distorts its intended nature, completely removing Christ from Christmas.

I internalize all of these problems every year, but do not have the courage to deny my children participation in America's most festive celebration of the year. The reality is that I have to find some justification, some reason to believe that I am not harming them, not diluting their faith or our religious beliefs, by allowing the Santa Claus theme to reside in our house. So here is what I came up with:

1. Santa Claus is another character that exercises a child's imagination. Look, I know this is a stretch, since we pretty much tell them exactly what they should believe, with innumerable television shows and movies. There is something to be said, however, in the idea of Santa, what he looks like, where he lives, what type of toys he will deliver, how his reindeer actually fly, will he come to my house, what does he like to eat, etc...Alright, if your not buying that one, then on to idea 2.

2. Santa Claus is a good exercise in faith. A child must have belief that an entity they have never met will somehow be able to monitor them, judge them, and reward them accordingly. They must trust that there innermost desires will be known to this person and he will deliver them. Is it possible that Sant Claus is a smaller demonstration for our omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God, who is aware of our needs, wants and desires and judges our behavior? Can Santa Claus be a miniature model that demonstrates the hard to fathom concept of faith, belief in the unknown, manifestation of the unseen?

3. Santa Claus is an exercise in trust. Every year, Santa makes his rounds and deliveries, no matter what. The recent The Santa Clause movies are a great example of this, the goal of the movie focuses on how Santa and his purpose must go on, no matter what.

4. Santa Claus is no more than positive fantasy fiction character, created to serve a good purpose or accomplish the good deed against all odds.

If I am able to believe in the concept of Christian speculative fiction, if I can advocate that it's very existence is not contradictory because fantasy can be inspired by Christian themes, then shouldn't the idea and concept of Santa Claus be easily acceptable. Actually, shouldn't it be unquestionable. Where the real story is the birth and celebration of Jesus Christ, then aren't Santa Claus, his elves, the North Pole, Mother Claus and the flying reindeer no more than Christian speculative fiction?

I don't know; but it is the reason I will swallow this year to allow my children to sit on a stranger's lap and take the Santa picture, put up the tree, leave out the cookies and experience frenzied gift openings. A new year, a new fake explanation. I'll work out the guilties in church Christmas morning.....


Andrea Graham said...

The biggest problems with Santa actually are the second and third reasons listed. The reason those points argue against Santa is Santa is a fiction, while Jesus is not. It would be one thing if parents presented Santa as a mythical fantasy and let's pretend game. Yet most have their children believing Santa is very real and putting their trust and faith in someone that doesn't exist and cannot help them along side our very real Lord and Savior. This can lead children to doubt God as well when they find out the truth. Don't parents, especially Christian parents, have a responsibility to be truthful with their children?

I understand not wanting our children to 'miss out,' I often have similar feelings. As Adam has pointed out to me, children don't miss what they were never introduced to. Honestly, I think I would rather have missed out on my parents lying to me. If they'd lie to me about there being a Santa Claus, why should I trust anything else they say?

Still, as children will be introduced to Santa sooner or later, I personally think the best course to take is to let children know up front that Santa isn't real and ask them if they would like to play the game anyway. That way they get all the fun without the deception. Of course, to avoid angry confrontations, you'll want to advise them not to share this information with their friends.

Even if you're already caught in the Santa trap, it can help to find a story book about the *real* Santa, Saint Nicholas, explain the parts about reindeer and what not are just legends and pretend. With older children, you could also explain him as a symbol and ideal rather than actual person or being, that grown ups carry out much like we embody Christ's mission on earth, only Christ isn't just a symbol but a real person. Or stick with Saint Nicholas and say grown ups carry on his mission like this to honor his memory, and emphasize that the real Santa is alive in Heaven with Jesus. Just some ideas for anyone wanting to avoid or stop lying while still keeping the Christmas cheer.

By the way, after I realized Santa wasn't real, we went on pretending, and had no less fun. I really have no problem with this as a fantasy, and if you can find spiritual significance to the Santa myth, by all means, share that with your children.

The problems arise when fantasy is presented as reality.

chrisd said...

I have 3 children aged 10-5. We pretended Santa Claus until last year.

My youngest was asking me about Santa Claus in the car yesterday. I explained about St. Nicholas and that Santa Claus is sorta like that but he doesn't really come down the chimney.

Then I told him that I believe in what Santa Claus does and that I like stories about him. I also told not to argue with people about whether there really is a Santa or not.

I still love Santa Claus. I still love Rudolph. We will watch Rankin Bass movies til my children's eyes glaze over (but note, not mine). Then Veggie Tales. Then White Christmas (while my husband tosses his cookies, so to speak). I'll pull out the Polar Express and shed a tear at the end.

Santa Claus-our earliest introduction to speculative fiction.

Good post!

Aisha said...

Thank you for your comments - you both present very good points. I find myself stuttering over the inconsistencies my 5 year old points out - why was Santa at the mall and on the corner, mommy!! I definitely have to rethink my approach!!

Daniel I Weaver said...

I'll chime in. I have a 10 year old and a 5 year old. We still do the whole Santa "lie" with the kids.

First off, to anyone who has never read it, do a search for the famous "Dear Virginia" letter published in the post back in the last 1800's. I find it quite endearing.

More to the point, there is a BIG difference in my mind's eye, between how a Christian family celebrates Christmas and how "other" families do it. For instance, last night after I finished reading some Christmas stories to the boys while putting them to bed, my 5-year old pipes up with "Hey Dad, I know why we have Christmas." Intrigued, I asked why. His response? "Because it's God's birthday."

The reason I don't have any qualms keeping the "Santa lie" alive for my children is because they know and appreciate the TRUE meaning of Christmas. Sure, they get as terribly excited as the next kid by the thought of Christmas morning presents, but they also participate in our Christmas program as stable animals in a children's skit about the first Christmas, they KNOW what Christmas means, and they have a family that keeps the Christ in Christmas.

One of the other reasons I keep it going at my house, is that I am such an imaginative person, by nature. My children have followed suit. You want to know what one of their favorite past times is? Writing books. Yup, they have so much fun folding up paper, stapling it to gether, drawing pictures and writing stories. Why, because we foster their imaginations. What is Santa if not an idea, a concept, a figment of child-like imagination? Real or not, I will fuel my children's imaginations, not squash them. And as long as my boys put Christ first (and they happen to consider Santa the legendary Saint Nicholas who just happened to be a Godly man anyway and see his gift-giving as an extension of the three-wise-men offerings), they can have their Santa, their Christmas magic if you will.

Oh, and as for the mall thing, they also know he isn't the REAL Santa Clause. They picked up on the fact that he's just a guy in a suit long ago and it was THEY that offered the explanation that Santa simly couldn't be everywhere at once, so he must have other people come out to "take our orders." (as if Santa were a fast-toy factory or something).

Well, I hope everyone has a blessed Christmas. Do with Santa as you will, but I love the Christmas magic and in a Christian, balanced home, I can't find the harm in letting their imaginations wander.

God Bless,

Andrea Graham said...

Dan, but is Santa an imaginative fantasy to young children, or reality? The truth is, he is a fantasy. You can explain him however you want, but as Christians, we have a responsibility before God to help our children distinguish between fantasy (Santa lives at the north pole a gingerbread house with his wife, elves, and eight flying reindeer) and reality (a bunch of seals and polar bears live at the north pole, and of course Saint Nicholas, the real Santa, lives in Heaven.)

Children expect their parents to tell the truth. If a child's parent has told them about Santa Claus, they believe he as real as their parent is because they trust their parent not to lie to them, in fact, it's unthinkable for a child that their parent(s) might lie until their parent(s) are caught in an untruth, such as an immortal man named Santa literally lives at the actual north pole and brings presents.

I apologize for my bluntness, but how is placing presents under a tree and telling the kids they're from Santa possibly not deception? On a personal note, it's a wonder I didn't notice sooner that Santa had my mother's handwriting, but at the time the idea my mother might be deceiving me was unthinkable, so surely there was a reasonable explanation.

But of course there wasn't. How can this not violate their trust and undermine our integrity and our witness before our children, that the whole time we've been teaching them truths like, "thou shalt not bear false witness" we've been misleading them to believe Santa is real in the same sense as Jesus? I'm sorry, but I fail to see what's so harmless in this.

An untruth is an untruth, is it not; or do we wish to model moral relativism? All the fun at Christmas time, that's great, fantasy portrayed as fantasy is wonderful, but is deception ever permitted before God? Scripture isn't too nice about causing children to stumble, so isn't this whole issue of how to approach Santa at least worth asking Him for His input on?

Deborah Cullins Smith said...

My kids are all grown now, but we did the "Santa bit" for them while they were small. They haven't seemed to be unduly damaged by that, and now the grandsons dream of Santa visiting while they sleep.

I remember struggling with whether to allow the Santa myth in our household or not, and finally caved to it. Was it the right choice? I can't answer that question. But I think each parent has to thrash that out for themselves. Like you, Aisha, I did alot of that "thrashing out the guilties in church"!!

But look at it this way: We never tell our kids to let Santa Claus into their hearts. Yet, we lead them to Jesus at very early ages. And they KNOW, with the wonderful faith of children, that He IS real! We DO teach them the reality of God, of His Son Jesus Christ, and the nearness of the Holy Spirit when we need Him the most! We teach them that 24/7, all year round.

Somehow, I think we're teaching them the difference. In the meantime, try not to sweat it TOO much! Believe me, there will be PLENTY of other things for you to get the guilties over! :)


Andrea Graham said...

All I can tell you is the harm Santa did in my life. It broke a bond of trust between me and my parents and cast doubt on everything they taught me. In my heart of hearts, it even cast doubt on the existence of God, a what-if I still do battle with at times today. He must be real, I'm too aware of my own dependence upon Him, but yet there is still that frightening whisper at the back of my mind, what if Jesus is like Santa?

I can't help but wonder if there is a correlation between the numbers of rebellious teenagers and the bond broken by this seemingly innocent 'white' lie. Maybe it's the way it's done. As I said, my mother signed the presents from Santa, and drank the milk and cookies I left out for him, all tricks with the express purpose of deceiving me into believing Santa as a reality.

Still, while I understand how culturally ingrained this practice is, how can it possibly be acceptable before God to deceive a child, especially with the lengths parents go to convince their children the myth is real? I can't help but wonder if the devil is sitting in his hovel laughing at us (the church) for allowing him to trick us into undermining everything we are trying to teach our children with this supposedly innocent fun.

I guess it comes down to this: Is lying and deception a sin, or not? How can we lead our children to believe a myth as reality without lying or using deception? Do we believe in absolutes, or situational ethics? Which does changing the rules to allow for Santa, as traditionally done, teach children?

These issues go the heart of the cultural war taking place today. We are supposed to, as Christians, live differently from the world. Why not start with keeping our integrity intact at Christmas?

Andrea Graham said...

Furthermore, whether we think it's a big deal or not, it seems the Holy Spirit thinks it's a big enough deal to be convicting Aisha about this. Why not commit our Christmas practices to God, and seek and earnestly pray how He would have us celebrate *His* birthday?

Ruthiechan said...

I know it's been a while since this was posted, however, I feel I need to add my two cents.

My father felt betrayed when he found out that Santa was not real when his mother told him that Santa was real. As a result, I did not grow up believing in Santa.

And you know what? I am *grateful* for that. I knew who Santa was, watching cartoons and such, but all my presents were signed "From Mom & Dad." I LOVE Christmas, it was always exciting to wait and see what Mom & Dad got me. I always said, "Thank you" to my parents and gave them hugs for the gifts. I loved the feeling of family closeness that fostered.

I remember one year, when all the kids were older, that all the presents were signed "from Santa" and Dad dressed up as Santa. We all knew it was Dad, but it was fun playing pretend. We had so much fun my parents did it the following year. Every one of use already knew who the real gift givers were and gave appropriate thanks AND we had fun with the fantasy of Santa.

I am an imaginative person. I write fantasy/science fiction stories. I enjoy the fantasy aspect of Santa. The only reason my daughter knows who Santa is, is because of preschool, but she loves Christmas anyway too. She knows it's Mommy and Daddy giving her the presents. She also knows whose birthday we're celebrating.

There's nothing wrong with the fantasy of Santa, but there is something wrong with telling your kids, "be good or Santa won't bring you any presents."

You can foster imagination in your children without lying to them. You can help them enjoy the spirit of Christmas without lying to them.