As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jolly Old St. Nick

Advent has barely begun, but already the conversation about whether it's okay to teach your kids about Santa has started.  (Likely because feast of St. Nicholas on December 6 is fast approaching!)  As a Catholic family raising children in a mostly secular world, it's a logical question.  Can we enter into the magic and wonder that is Santa Claus, without having the real meaning of Christmas completely railroaded?  Can we be straight with our kids about where their gifts really come from without crushing their spirits or destroying their innocence?  Once again, as with Halloween, the Church has issued no clear directive on what good Catholic families ought (or ought not) to do about Santa.  In her wisdom, she leaves it to us to discern and pray about what is best for our family, with the hope that we will come to a devotion that truly honors the solemnity that is due this joyous day.

Santa was outed this summer in our house by my husband, after I encouraged him to come clean about the tooth fairy (after three nights of not putting money under someone's pillow - poor kid!) I had been struggling with the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny for a while, because they don't have the same nice Catholic roots as St. Nicholas. Truth be told, I was quite happy with our efforts to let St. Nicholas point to Jesus, and since we don't watch TV or listen to radio we aren't bombarded with media to the contrary this time of year, so it worked. I felt like Santa was in his proper place in our home. So I was disappointed when all of my kids ran in one day and said, "Mommy, Mommy, we know that Dad's Santa and that you're the Easter Bunny and that there's no tooth fairy!!" And I was like, "Whaaaaaat??? This is not what we talked about!" 

We have six kids ranging from ages 1 to 9, so they are still pretty young. But as we approach our first Christmas with them knowing we are the ones who buy the gifts, I have to say that it's been really freeing. The kids are not disappointed in the slightest, there is still plenty of magic in this season for them to enter into. They still talk about Santa, and I let them get into it because he is based on a real person, who lives forever in the communion of Saints, and left a real legacy of selfless giving. The letters to Santa hoping against hope that he will come through with that one big gift Mom and Dad have said they just can't buy are what have stopped, which is a real blessing. I can be straight with them and say, "look, don't ask for that, it's too much" and I don't need to worry about them being disappointed on Christmas morning because they were really hoping Santa would bring it anyway. We have talked very little about what they want, but a whole lot about what they are going to do for each other, and I think that is what St. Nicholas intended.

In our home, despite our best intentions, Santa was always about the gifts they were going to get.  And so this year, as one boy wrote a letter to Jolly St. Nick (which I did not discouraged), he informed me that he was asking for a drum set - a gift he had already asked for, and I told him "No," because we had just bought them violins, and they also take piano lessons, and even if I had the money to actually buy a drum set (which I'm not going to lie, is enticing, because I love the idea of being a musical family!) I think it's important for them to slow down, and get good at what they have.  That just because they have a budding desire for music (maybe because their toddler brother got a toy drum set for his birthday last week and big brother is eager to be the expert of everything?  Who knows!) does not mean we should run out and spend ridiculous amounts of money on instruments they may or may not ever use (who knows?)  In any event, he was heartbroken.  Even though he knows we buy the gifts, not Santa, and even though we had already been clear with him that he was not going to get anything so extravagant, he asked for it anyway, and was dissappointed.  I told him that this was not what Santa had intended, and that I'm certain he would be so sad at what we're doing with his name in today's world.  He went into people's homes at night, in secret, so that when they discovered their gifts they wouldn't know who left them, and would thank God for His goodness.

Of course you can still teach this lesson without giving up Santa's secret all together, and you can do it really well.   You can continue in the spirit of anonymous giving by not telling your kids it's you, and teaching them about St. Nicholas so that they will thank God for His goodness, and not enshrine Santa.  But you don't need to make a case for that.  What you really do need to defend is why you would tell your young children there is no Santa.  Since making this decision, we have encountered so much shock from people who really can't imagine how we could do such a thing.  I don't blame them, that was my first reaction (Why, Jeff!)  It's so counter-cultural, and we've been raised to believe that Santa is the core of the magic of Christmas, that if we take them out there's nothing left but that boring religious stuff that the won't even get until they're much older.  

I'm not against imagination, or myths, or fairy-tales. I'm not against playing along to kids' fantasies, especially the ones that foster goodwill.  But the real debate here isn't whether to keep or ditch Santa, but what to tell our kids about him.  Because the fact is he is a real person.  And we have never once told our children that he isn't.  We simply are no longer telling them that he's the one who delivers their gifts on Christmas Eve.  The magic is still there, he is still a legend whose story is worth telling over and over again.

There is nothing wrong with encouraging fantasy and imagination, especially with the intention of teaching a good moral lesson (think Chronicles of Narnia). But when you read those stories to your kids, they know it's a story. If they ask you if Aslan will come bounding into their world through a wardrobe in their room, you'll tell them "no". It does not diminish the experience, the story or the lesson, but I am truly coming to see that it sets everything in its proper order. Aslan does not save, but teaches a story about the One who really does. Similarly, Santa Claus does not shower with gifts well beyond the means of the family, but Jesus lavishes with graces well beyond what we have. Is it wrong to teach your kids about Santa? I don't think so. Can it be done in a way that glorifies God? Absolutely. But in my experience it is also true that kids can be just as imaginative, have just as much wonder, and enter into the season of Christmas just as much if they know that their parents are the ones buying gifts, and that Santa is not sailing around the world on Christmas Eve. People worry that we are making our kids grow up too early, or that we are robbing of them of their innocence, but I have seen the very opposite. I have seen children delight in the simple truths of giving, and in the birth of a little baby, in the life of a Saint who really did amazing things, and in whose name we continue to give today, always pointing to Christ as he did.

1 comment :

  1. Great article! Came over from your comment on Carrots for Michaelmas. We have Santa come, but I wanted to see what a switcheroo might look like because the "spirit of Christmas" as embodied in the real St. Nick is what we have really taught them about. The St. Nick who loved the Christ Child AND backed up that love by caring for others.