Tuesday, December 23, 2008

To Santa or Not to Santa?

There are always Santa conversations at this time of year.

We're all busy, so I'll make this quick.

We do "No-Panic Santa."

I don't worry about it. Honestly, I don't. When Anne-with-an-e was a baby, I worried (a lot) that lying about Santa would mean that one day she'd think I'd lied about God, too. When she was two years old, people would ask her what Santa was going to bring, and she'd stare blankly at them, wondering who in the world they were talking about.

But then, my own past Santa fun crept into our Christmas traditions, and so, yes, we started "doing" Santa. (Why does this blog always sound slightly confessional? "Hi, I'm Karen. And I lie about Santa.")

Well, I don't out and out lie. I imply. I play a game. We get a visit from St. Nicholas on his feast day ... we have presents from him on Christmas morning ... We wink, we leave cookies, we love the magic.

And, although I completely respect the many different ways that good Catholic parents handle this question, here's the reason I don't worry that "the Santa lie" will lead to atheism:

God is real.

My children will know, see, and feel His fingerprints on their lives. We have seen God at work, and we know He isn't the stuff of toyshops and flying reindeer.

Yes, Ramona will learn that Santa was just a lot of fun pretending. But, she'll also know that Jesus is a powerful King.

Feelings on Santa vs. no-Santa are subjective and personal, and I would never say that my way is universally the best. I can understand the other side. I'm just saying that personally I no longer fret over it. And, since there's no doctrine of the Church that says we must not do Santa, I think I'm in faithful territory.

And, sometimes, even the most roundabout of ways of celebrating things can have lovely, unexpected, faith-filled results. I thought of that when I reread this old post on Santa, at The Wine Dark Sea.

Melanie writes,
"The Santa myth can be in our secular world a sort of pre-gospel."

I completely agree. As someone who grew up with Santa, but without religion in Christmas, I can say that Santa was indeed pre-Gospel for me. Santa was unconditional love. The times I was bad? He never left me a lump of coal. Not once. (Thanks, Mom and Dad.)

And Santa was magic.

God is the ultimate Unconditional Love and the True Magic.

I know that somewhere, deep down, the child who loved Santa was yearning for Christ.

And He came to me. Just as Santa did. But when He came, the Magic was bigger, and powerful.

And when He came, the Magic was here to stay.

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12/24/08 Edited to add this great bit of G.K. Chesterton, courtesy of Chris in the comments:

On Christmas morning, he [Chesterton] remembered, his stockings were filled with things he had not worked for, or made, or even been good for.

The only explanation people had was that a being called Santa Claus was somehow kindly disposed toward him. “We believed,” he wrote, that a certain benevolent person “did give us those toys for nothing. And ... I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea.

“Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.

“Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking.

“Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic good will.”

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Aaahhh ... no one can say it quite like G.K. Thank you, Chris.

9 comments:

sarah said...

Oh gee thanks Karen now I have to go and change my Shared Items list because it's getting filled up with stuff by you! ;-)

Great post. I love the concept of Santa as pre-Gospel. He was for me. Or between Gospel maybe. When I stopped believing in God and lost all that went along with that, I still had Santa magic (although I didn't believe in him by then either - but I was allowed to pretend.)

Anonymous said...

We don't really do it because it never came up! My first kid didn't show any interest, so it seemed kind of forced to make him interested.

My sister recently sent me this long quote from Chesterton (sorry it's so long, but hey, it's G.K.):

On Christmas morning, he [Chesterton] remembered, his stockings were filled with things he had not worked for, or made, or even been good for.



The only explanation people had was that a being called Santa Claus was somehow kindly disposed toward him. “We believed,” he wrote, that a certain benevolent person “did give us those toys for nothing. And ... I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea.



“Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.



“Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking.



“Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic good will.”



Are not parents of faith blessed, countless times over, to have for their children (and for themselves) such a fantastic and playful bridge to infinite, unconditionally loving Goodness, the Goodness which dreamed up the Christmas event in the first place?

___

chris

Vicki said...

Karen,
Thanks for the words of wisdom. I think you hit the mark!!

I have had the same dilemma too. When I grew up Santa was the main part and Jesus was secondary. As I grew up I realized that Santa could never truly satisfy me and I was looking for something else. Now in our home Jesus is the main part and Santa is secondary, and it is much more satisfying.

Our kids don't really believe in Santa anymore, but it is a fun story and famiy tradition.

Shaun said...

Great post -- spoken, of course, as one who "does Santa."

Hopefully our girls understand that we don't go to mass year round to worship Santa, and we don't study Santa in faith formation, and Santa doesn't appear anywhere in the rosary -- with any luck that will balance the "Santa discovery" out.

Jennifer said...

Lovely post, as always Karen.

Melanie B said...

Aw, Karen, I'm all choked up. This is beautiful. Exactly what I was trying to get at when I wrote my post. But I think you said it better.

Sarah N. said...

Lovely explanation of your Santa tradition!

"Santa was unconditional love. The times I was bad? He never left me a lump of coal. Not once."

Me either :) This is why we don't use Santa as a behavioral tool. We "do Santa" and love the magic of pretend but we don't say that our kids had better be good or he won't come. That to me does feel like a lie (because Santa will always come as long as they want him to) and counter to the season of God loving us so much that he sent his Son. Not to say I haven't been tempted to use this tactic on Christmas vacation tantrums or that I judge anyone who does, this is just what feels right for us.

Karen E. said...

Thank you, all, and Melanie, I think you said it beautifully!

Sarah Reinhard said...

I'm catching up...and LOVING this post. We "do Santa" too, and for pretty much the same reasons. I've meant to write about it - and haven't had time/inclination/SOMETHING - but I think I could just cut and paste from your post (names changed). :) Thanks, as always, Karen!