Right. So. Santa.
It’s pretty hard to raise a kid in North America avoiding all exposure to Santa. Though some people are bound and determined to try. Frankly, I am still in the “I don’t see the harm,” camp. But to explain why, I have to share a little bit more about my own experiences.
I was raised as a Christian (Lutheran, to be precise). But we believed in Santa, too. I never saw these two figures as opposed: they each had their place in the Christmas rituals. Another important aspect of my fondness for Santa is that the myth was not taken from me in a sudden, traumatic way: that is, there was no older, trouble-making kid who spoiled all the fun by telling me Santa wasn’t real. No one ever said that to me. I came to the realization myself, very gradually and gently, and this allowed me to form my own ideas about what Santa was and wasn’t. I decided that Santa is a symbol: a symbol of kindness, generosity, love. Going the extra mile because “It’s Christmas”. Santa is the excitement of knowing something secret and special is about to happen, the joy of giving gifts to people you love. The wonder of it all.
For me, Santa symbolizes the spirit of Christmas as seen through childhood eyes. I don’t think that spirit is a made-up fairy tale, at all. I think it exists in all of us, and this time of year brings it out in us.
There are a lot of arguments against Santa. One is that when children find out that their parents lied to them about Santa, they will decide their parents lied to them about Jesus, too, and conclude that he doesn’t really exist either. I think that’s an oversimplification. I think if your faith in God is shaken by a man in a red suit, it’s not the jolly old man who’s to blame. There are a lot of reasons why it’s hard to raise a Christian child in today’s world. Santa is the least of our problems.
Another argument is that the Christmas Story should be able to fulfill a child’s need and desire for magic at Christmas time. I believe with all my heart that all these things happened: that God came to earth and became a man; that Jesus was born of a virgin; that a star led the wise men over hundreds of miles to greet the new king; that a myriad of angels heralded his birth; that his birth and death saves me from my sins. I believe all of that – but it took me over 20 years of reflection, study, and discussion with others to get to that point. My daughter – forgive me – is not there yet. She can’t understand that it takes more than two seconds to turn bread into toast. I can’t articulate these abstract concepts to her yet. The Santa concept is a lot easier.
That doesn’t mean I don’t try to talk about Jesus’ birth with my daughter. We have an unbreakable Nativity set that she looks at and plays with every day. She knows the baby is called Jesus, and that the female figure is his mother and the male figure his father. She’s twenty months old. That’s a good start.
(To be honest, if you are going to take a hard look at the Christmas story, none of it really means anything unless you also understand and recognize the Easter story. So what? A baby was born to some girl who claims she’s never had sex. BIG DEAL, right? Unless you accept that Jesus is the Son of God, come to earth to die for our sins, the Christmas story doesn’t really contain any magic in and of itself.)
The post I referenced above asks, “I wonder if sometimes Jesus cries at Christmas.” I look around my world and I see so many reasons for Jesus to rejoice with his children on Earth. Millions of people raising songs of joy in His name. Shoppers giving coins to strangers ringing bells and wishing each other “Merry Christmas”. Children learning the value of giving, the importance of family. People all across the world making time for one another, gathering together to share fellowship and wishes for peace. Those are just the things I see – our all-powerful, all-knowing Lord sees so much more. You think Santa’s going to reduce Him to tears? What kind of God do you think He is?
So, yes. Gwen will be raised to believe in both Santa and Jesus. We will teach her about generosity, especially relational giving and giving to those less fortunate. We will teach her about Christ's birth, life, and death. We will teach her about the various meanings of Christmas - both religious and philanthropic - and eventually, when she realizes that the actual physical Santa is a myth, we'll help her to fill that void with her own conclusions about how she can still enjoy the things Santa represents. I believe in Jesus. I believe in Santa. And I believe in my daughter's ability to assimilate all of these cultural concepts and become an amazing, well-adapted person.