Monday, December 20, 2010

My take on Santa

A little over a month ago I wrote the previous post Liar, Liar Pants on Fire.

I got a number of comments when I posted it on facebook that were from people concerned about how we deal with imaginary characters. Most specifically, beloved cultural icons like the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus.

Many Christian families choose to liken these characters to Satan himself, and they keep their children from them, and anything having to do with them, at all costs.

Many Christian families fully embrace these characters and tell their kids that they are as real as the day is long.

We take a completely different approach than either of those described above.

But first, let me give you a little disclaimer: I’ve decided that my rants will not be persuasive in nature (I’m really not here to cause unnecessary upheaval or discord or to convince anyone they’re doing things the wrong way). Instead, I intend to continue writing about why we do things the way we do in our family. You can take it for what it’s worth. You can whole heartedly agree, or heatedly disagree. I by no means think I’m a mom who has it all together. I’m simply a mom, a wife and a follower of Christ who’s doing the best I can to teach my kids to love God and love people.

So with that being said, let me address the issue of fictional characters. For clarity sake, I’ll focus on Santa. Like it or not, Santa is a part of our society. He may not be a part of my religious belief, but he is part of my culture. He’s not the reason we celebrate Christmas in our family, but he’s deeply entwined in our culture’s Christmas celebration.

I do not make my children thwart their eyes when they pass him in the mall. In fact, just last night I let them sit on his lap at a local pizza joint. But, when they ask if he’s real, I tell them *gasp* the truth. No, he’s not real, he’s just a man dressed up in a costume. I still can’t figure out why so many people think I’m a bizarre parent for telling my kids the truth!

We tell them that other people choose to tell their children that Santa is real, and that it’s their choice to make. It’s also their choice to decide when to let their children know that he isn’t real. We’ve told our kids time and time again that it’s not their job to tell another child that Santa isn’t real. I can’t say they’ve always listened to that advice, but that’s what we continue to communicate.

But do I go around sucking the ‘joy’ out of the holiday season? Absolutely not! Do I make my kids take every non-religious symbol out of their holiday celebrations? No! Again, I think things like sticking your tooth under your pillow, trick-or-treating, decorating a tree, and collecting plastic eggs full of money in cute little baskets are very much a part of our how our culture celebrates. Our family includes some of these things because they are part of our culture. But we try really hard not to get these cultural icons confused with the true reason we celebrate a given holiday, mile-stone, or event.

But what I don’t do is lie to them. When they ask if one of these characters are real, I tell them no. When Leeann asked if I was the tooth fairy, I said yes. She knows this, yet she continues to stick each tooth beneath her pillow. It’s still fun!

When I first posted the Liar, Liar post a couple of people were concerned that my kids will miss out on the ‘magic’, or on ‘being a kid’. To that I would say that our kids actually experience a lot of ‘magic’ and plenty of opportunities for ‘being a kid’. It just looks a little differently in our family than it might look in most families.

My kids regularly play dress up and make believe. They have a closet full of dress up clothes and accessories that encourage them to use their imagination! I don’t squelch their imagination when they are pretending to be a doctor, a mom, a race car driver or Darth Vader. But, if at any point they take it too far, let it get out of hand, or ask me if they really are one of these things, I bring them back to reality.

In our family we also regularly surprise our kids. We let them know that we have a surprise for them and sometimes drag it out for days. They love the anticipation! We have just gotten back from a trip to Disneyland (our kids’ third trip), where we surprised our kids by waiting to tell them until the morning we left. And we let them participate in a magical world full of fairy tale characters. We watched as Titus excitedly fought Darth Vader, and Leeann lovingly embraced the princesses she’s grown to love from her favorite story books.

But again, when they ask if these people are real, we simple tell them that these are people who are dressed up and are playing the part of some of their favorite characters. It isn’t any less ‘magical’. It isn’t any less exciting. It isn’t any less fun. It’s just magical, exciting fun that is rooted in reality. If you ask me, that’s the best of both worlds!

My kids aren’t missing out on the excitement of Christmas because we don’t embrace the Santa myth. They are just excited for different reasons. And, I’m okay with that! And when they ask (which they haven’t yet) why people believe in Santa, I’ll happily tell them all about the progression of the Santa story.

When they ask if they can sit on Santa’s lap (as they did last night), I’ll let them. When they ask if they’ll get what they told Santa they wanted for Christmas, I tell them no. Santa doesn’t create gifts in his workshop. He can’t visit every child in the world all in one night. He certainly can’t get into our home because we don’t have a chimney. And, we don’t take kindly to anyone entering our home at night while we’re asleep! Besides, Leeann asked for a baby brother to be in mommy's tummy for Christmas. And I'm certain Santa's not in that business!

But, they are more than welcome to tell him what they want for Christmas when they see him out in the town, and they can most definitely have a candy cane if he offers one. But they can’t eat it until after dinner, and they can’t be disappointed if they don’t receive what they asked for. And that friends, that’s what we do with Santa Claus!


T & K said...

Thank you. That is also what we have done with our kids and have gotten the 'missing the joy/magic' comment. Jeremiah actually asked if he could believe in Santa, even though he's not real. We told him yes. It's nice to know we're not the only ones that are 'crazy.' : )

beachbirdie said...

I think you've done an excellent job navigating this very touchy territory! Wish I'd had the wisdom to do what you are doing.

My biggest disagreement with "religious radicals" is that they think they have to completely erase something like Santa from their lives. I think it does as much harm as letting kids believe he's real. It is a joy stealer.

God gave us imagination, it is not a sin to enjoy "make-believe"!

My kids discovered the truth when they were pretty young, but still played along. When I was a young mom, I didn't know any better and we did the "Santa" thing. What is hilarious is how long they knew the truth and didn't let me know, they didn't want ME to be disappointed in THEM, LOL!

Even so, they still leave cookies and eggnog for Santa, and the oldest is 30!