Saturday, July 18, 2009

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town

Someone I admire has written an interesting piece about, in a nutshell anyway, how telling the truth to children is better than "protecting" them with a lie. I agree with everything she said pretty much wholesale. (I'd caveat my agreement on a couple small points, but the principle of the thing is solid. No lying to kiddies, or else the boogie man will come out and eat me.)

However, she's got me thinking on this fine muggy morning about this whole "truth to children" thing, in the wide context of all the peeps I know and their varying opinions on the subject. The ready example is Santa Claus--ought we or ought not we lead children to "believe" in Santa? A very old friend staunchly insists that to do so is tantamount to mortal sin, is a grave lie, will damage forever the little child's ability to trust adults, and those who do so ought only suffer by riding the buffer of Parliamentary trains. His children have never even heard the name--Santa has about the same household standing as Eminem: should he come up in conversation via something the children hear outside the home, he is dismissed as "Oh, he is a bad person that we do not talk about." And this, I sincerely hope, is the outer limit of anti-Santa in the world. Personally, I think it's a bit much. After all, one could always thoughtfully reintroduce the history of where "Saint 'Claus" came from in the first place.

I feel a need to digress at this point, though. First of all, are there those of you in the world who really and truly believed with all their hearts, after reaching the age of reason, that Santa Claus did in fact exist and came down every chimney on Earth every Christmas Eve? Perhaps my whole take on this subject is skewed, because I was never one of those children. We had Santa, we knew he was "coming," there is amusing video evidence of my disappointment that he "had to use the front door" for a particularly large doll house one Christmas. (I was skeptical, too, because I knew how careful we were to never let any strangers have our keys.) But I was four.

I have a convenient break in my childhood memory between "before the age of reason" and "after the age of reason," as my family moved when I was six years old. Post-Move Jen did not have any idea that Santa was really really real. She never felt that all adult humanity had led her gravely astray by telling her that he existed in the first place. He has been a character of fiction for as long as I can honestly remember. We watched the old claymation movies, we sang Santa songs, when my sister was a very wee thing we did the milk and cookies thing one year--but I drank the milk and my brother ate a cookie, to help preserve the illusion. By the time she was five for six, my sister certainly knew that there was no Santa of the flesh-and-bones variety. For once thing, with a birthday falling less than 30 days from December 25th, she learned the hard way about "this is your birthday and your Christmas present." Perhaps my whole stance is based on the fact that my parents were so seamlessly able to give us both the fun of the popular icon along with the reality that he isn't real, that I'm just a little dismissive of those who have such a stinkin' hard time reconciling the two. And I'm done digressing.

The larger question of telling chilren the truth is not confined to Santa Claus, though, and I know this. Similar fictional characters, likewise, are not really the limit of the issue. The tooth fairy, Easter bunny, cupid, Father Time, and all the rest are just imagery. But do we "believe" in imagery (of the secular sort!!!)? Does Uncle Sam have to appear in the parade for July 4th to be complete? If I find out he isn't real, will all my future celebrations of our country's birthday be void and empty? This goes back to the Santa-after-sixth-birthday thing--I never really did believe he existed, at least not past the time when I also believe that the tub drain would suck me underground and Big Bird was actually a bird and not a person in a suit. If I had, my parents would have done me a disservice, and I suppose that's what is at stake. To put one's children in a position where will have such a strong belief in something that they are truly shaken to find it is not so, well, that is a crime indeed.

And I'm out of brain cells for the morning. More on this later, if I remember I was thinking about it.

p.s. For the record, there are Santa books on my shelf and they shall be read aloud with gusto every Christmas.


  1. I'm with you, Jen! (Coincidentally, I had similar impressions of Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc. as a child--I don't remember believing they were literally REAL, though the cookies and milk we left always were half-gone on Christmas morning.) One of my best friends likes to say that something can be true without being factual, and perhaps that applies here. After all, there's something true about all these myths, something that's worth celebrating and passing along. Maybe that's also why in my post I focused more on answering questions and explaining things. If a child asks, "Why do we get presents on Christmas?" the answer should NOT be that Santa Claus in the North Pole wants to dole out gifts to kids who are good all year. That's a story, but it's not the answer.

  2. I enjoyed reading this, Jen. Thanks. I think you were on to something when you said that Santa Claus should not be the end of Christmas, essentially. While we were strong believers of Santa in our house as children, there was a far bigger reason for our excitement during the Christmas Holidays/Advent. Jesus' Birthday. That was the (hate to use the cliche) reason for the Season.

  3. As a little girl, I grew up believing that Santa was real. When my parents told me that he wasn't, I didn't feel like I should trust my parents any less. Santa was simply a character made for us to make Christmas a little more exciting. I don't see any great harm in making Christmas more exciting for a little child. My parents did let us believe in Santa, but we were always told how much more important Jesus was. Mom and Dad always made sure we knew what Christmas was really about. Again, as a child, I never felt like I couldn't trust my parents after being told. The only thing I felt differently about was Santa!