Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Santa Debate

Over at Creative Minority Report, this post by Patrick Archbold about a priest's debunking of Santa at Mass has garnered the usual debate among Catholic as to how to further suck the joy out of Christmas altogether in their best imitation of America's Puritan Christmas-hating past.

A little harsh? Okay, maybe. But I get so tired of it.

Patrick links to this excellent post by "The Nightfly" about how people who say Santa is lying are kind of missing the point. Whether you want to have Santa (or St. Nicholas, or La Befana, etc.) or not in your house isn't the issue; the problem is that some people seem to have forgotten how important the life of the imagination is to a child.

As for me, well, I have all sorts of things to say. Luckily, given that my shopping isn't quite done yet, I have already said them. And one of the great perks about sharing my real identity on this blog is that I can do things like link to the Dallas Morning News essay I wrote two years ago which appeared in the Christmas Eve "Points" section:

Are we lying to our children, with our ancient stories and cherished poems of a kindly saint who loves all children and hears their whispered wishes and dreams? Not at all – we are telling them the truth. It's just that some truths can't be found in scholarly lectures or discovered in dry books of facts. When we teach our wide-eyed little ones the legend of St. Nicholas, we are teaching them essential lessons about faith, hope and unconditional love. When we sit by glowing embers to share with them our December stories, we instruct them in such virtues as generosity, patience and the sort of kindness that expects no reward.

And they are able to learn these things from us because for a few short weeks every year, we find it possible to enter the world of make-believe. We fill our homes with songs and stories, and turn ordinary rooms into glittering palaces. The everyday world is swept away.

I hope you'll read the whole essay, if you get the chance. But for now, as one of Santa's little helpers I need to get my elf-shoes in gear and finish a few more point-and-click shopping chores before it's too late!


Rebecca said...

Yeah, but what if you have the kind of kids who say, at a very young age, like four, "Mom, now really. Does St. Nicholas come down from heaven and go down all the chimneys in the world, or are you making that up?" I was that kind of kid, and my kids are too. Maybe we have a lack of imagination in our genes. But when my kid brings something to the table in that fashion, and really wants to know whether it is or isn't so, I don't think I can keep going with it, insisting that it's so. My parents tried to avoid my questions, by noncomittal replies, but to my brother and I that was to us just as good as admitting it was a story, and we stayed up late at night on the stairs and caught them coming in the door with the presents, just to make sure. We really wanted to know, from the very first, whether it was so. My kids like to pretend, about fairies and things, but when it comes down to it, they really want to know the nuts and bolts of things. Do angels, or don't they, have some sort of body, why are they depicted with bodies, in what way exactly is God everywhere; do the saints have bodies, they want the truth. Truly, I don't think their imaginations suffer for that. I do think St. Nicholas, or "santa", is wonderful, and so do my children, and they like that people like to pretend he comes down their chimneys, and they understand why people like to pretend about it. I also think the Christmas story, the myth come true of God descending to earth as a tiny child, is more than enough to fill the imagination and bring magic to Christmas, so I don't feel like my kids' Christmas is less magical because they don't think St. Nicholas has his body and goes down people's chimneys. I don't think it's a super-ancient tradition to tell kids that, anyway. I remember Christmas always being very magical and also enjoying the Santa myth. I also remember getting in trouble with a friend's mom who was irate with me, when I was seven or so, for telling her daughter that Santa coming down chimneys is just a story. I wasn't trying to make her sad; I just realized she was misinformed and wanted to tell her the truth. It gets kind of complicated, if you continue to really insist through the years that yes, Santa does really come down the chimney, and you should really "believe" and so on, then you have to either coordinate with all the parents of the other children who come into contact with yours so you all disabuse them at the same exact time, or you have to tell your child, if they know already, not to tell other children about it, which seems a little weird. I know that some kids don't really insist on knowing whether it's "literally" true and can just enjoy the myth for some years without asking that question, but I guess everyone's different.

Rebecca said...

I hope you're not mad at me about Santa; I'm not at all passionate about this so I don't mind being debunked. But I became curious about the history of this, and I found some here, for anyone interested:


So apparently it started as a Dutch thing having to do with St. Nicholas' Day and through the late 1800s and early 1900s was changed to Christmas, I suppose because England and America were Protestant. Anyhow, great saint.

Katerine said...

I love the role of the fantastical and magical aspects of life and children NEED it. I believe you cannot get more fantastical than believing a Virgin got pregnant by God and then gave birth to Him and then placed God in a Manger and then later God was tortured and sacrificed for his Creation. Humans. Really, it is a strange story and anything that can help build up the fantastical and magical worlds for children AND adults, should be encouraged.

When my son finds the lost car keys I've been looking for, I know that St. Anthony answered my prayers.

When I find a good parking space near the Church, I know that St. Boniface answered my prayer.

When my son "out grew" his egg allergy, I knew that Ven. Pio Buno Lanteri answered my prayer.

When my sister was rushed to the hospital bleeding from a placental abruption of 30%, and lost 3 liters of blood, and the baby was born perfectly healthy, then I know that St. Mary has answered my prayers.

and when my children recieve gifts from Santa Claus, I know that it is because St. Nicholas has answered their prayers. I'm not so proud to believe that I could even get out of bed in the morning, much less fill stockings on Christmas Eve, without the help of Heaven.

The point is, instead of running from Santa Claus, take him back.

Explain to your children the reality of miracles and that the secular world created the Santa myth because they don't believe in miracles or Saints, so they had to describe our feast day in the best way they could. It just so happens that the symbols they used can help.

We must explain to our children how significant St. Nicholas is to Christmas and let them know that every time they see an image of Santa it is the Holy Spirit prompting them to pray to St. Nicholas for the needs of children around the world.

Deirdre Mundy said...

We're into Santa. But we also tell the kids is that the reason he brings us gifts is that he's SO EXCITED that Christ was born, and Jesus loves the little children, so since Santa loves Jesus, he loves the little children too!!

(note-- this does cause discomfort for pro-abort adults because my children then assume that "doesn't love children = hates God..." oh well!)

Tim J. said...

Here are my recent thoughts on the subject of Santa. This is exactly what I tell my kids.


Pauli said...

I think this song about sums up the meaning of Santa Claus. It answers the very personalistic question "Who is Santa Claus to you, Virginia?" or something of that nature.