Monday, November 30, 2009

He knows if you've been bad or good

The season of Santa is upon us.

He's makin' a list...

What I am about to tell you will make me sound like a Scrooge-y countercultural extremist weirdo.

Checkin' it twice...

But of course, I'm no stranger to that title. And I'm OK with it.

Gonna find out who's naughty or nice...

My son grew up not believing in Santa Claus.

Yes, it's true. My husband and I, both red-blooded Americans and Christmas-celebrators from childhood, opted to raise our son without the myth that Santa brings the presents.

Matt never wrote a letter to Santa. We didn't take him to have his picture taken with the jolly old elf, nor did we decorate with Kris Kringle's red-suited image. We even stayed away from Santa-themed carols.

When Matt was old enough, we cautioned him against spoiling his classmates' belief in the big guy. We taught him about St. Nicholas, the historical figure upon whom Santa Claus is (very loosely) based. And we told him that Santa himself, along with his flying reindeer and sack of toys, is make-believe.

Why did we go to all that trouble, when going with the flow of the culture would have been so much easier?

Because truth is important.

He sees you when you're sleeping...

Even before I met my husband, I decided I wanted to raise any and all future children without benefit of the typical childhood myths — not just Santa Claus. My main reason was that I wanted to be able to look my kids in the eye and say, "I never lied to you."

He knows if you're awake...

And I figured if we taught our hypothetical children about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Jesus, and they gradually came to realize the first three members of that ensemble weren't real, what would they conclude about the fourth? And what would they conclude about their parents' honesty?

He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness' sake!

(I had to do a little campaigning on this point. My husband is quite the traditionalist, with fond memories of his own Santa-believing years. Once Matt was at the age when his peers had stopped believing, we began enjoying a few Santa-themed traditions, but they're a little more neutral now than they were back when he was small. Less emotionally charged for everyone.)

Our son is now 24 years old. Yesterday, he thanked us for raising him without Santa. (He had just been to the mall earlier in the weekend. Thanksgiving weekend. Poor soul.)

His feelings about the issue were more passionate and well-reasoned than my own were when I was his age.

He pointed out how the Santa myth encourages greed, and getting more than giving.

More importantly, he went on, the idea of an omniscient being who brings rewards and punishments based on behavior flies in the face of the truth which Christian parents ought to be teaching their children.

I think Santa would be pleased.


I guess I'm not the only Christian parent who has struggled with this issue. Last Christmas, blogger William Pike wrote a great post about addressing the Santa question with his four-year-old son.



  1. Bravo, Elmores! My parents raised us without Santa, too... for exactly the same reasons. Unfortunately, I ignored them when it came to not flaunting it in other kids' faces... or the face of the mall Santa... lol. I remember once telling a Santa Claus, in front of my cousins, that I wouldn't sit on his lap because he wasn't real, so what was the point of telling him what I wanted for Christmas? I was a pretty insensitive 5-year-old. ;)

    But all silliness aside, I agree with Matt's conclusions. The omniscience factor of the Santa-hymns (um, yeah, that's basically what they are) has always been scary to me... seems like putting a happy face on idolatry and blasphemy.

    Why not teach kids the real reason for the season? Why not emphasize the power of One who REALLY IS omniscient?

  2. I remember a few such episodes with Matt, too. (Note that I say "we cautioned," not that he always followed...) I'm curious if he remembers any.

    Parenting is so constant, and so daily, and it's really easy to just slip into the path of least resistance. Sometimes it's too much effort thinking through decisions like this one... much less following through on them.

    So it's out there as a challenge, but a gentle one, offered from one parent (who knows what it's like to be frazzled by the daily demand) to another, in a spirit of humor and compassion.

  3. I tend to picture St. Nicholas as a gift giver, tossing things through windows (much like the Santa Claus mythological present-delivering figure), not a resurrector of the dead and a calmer of stormy seas and a protector of seafarers and sailors. These supernatural religious tales about "St. Nick" really are more reminiscent of our Lord Jesus Christ than they are of the "jolly old elf" with "a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer."

  4. :) That's so great, Pam. We didn't have those parameters growing up, but several times Mom put in this animated video called "Nicholas: the Boy Who Became Santa" that portrayed Nicholas's conversion to Christianity and his re-generated/giving spirit. I really like what you and Matt have articulated though. On a similar note, I struggle with all the secularized holidays. Just see the video my sister and I posted on fb today :-P... I mean, really, we can be silly (hope it doesn't offend)... but at times it sickens me that we actually associate a celebration of Christ's birth with all that other stuff. I would almost rather that celebration be on a different day at this point. Could it boil down to the question of seeking Christ transforming culture or seeking Christ against culture? I'm not sure I have the answer yet. :) Great post!

  5. E: Thanks for your comment! I struggle with the secularized version of Christmas as well. This year I've developed a different way of dealing with it -- but that's a topic for another post.

    By the way, I thought your video was adorable! :)


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