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What's the Problem with Santa Claus

Posted by thethousandmarch on December 9, 2012 at 5:20 PM

I’m not particularly distressed about the commercialization, or secularization of Christmas. I’m concerned about a much more insidious problem – the American Santa Claus myth. What makes dealing with this particular problem difficult is that there is so much societal pressure to have our kids believe in Santa Claus. I don’t really want to have to make a stand against Santa Claus. And I don’t want my kids to be those kids who go around telling all the other kids that Santa Claus is fake, ruining their fun. I’d like for Santa Claus to not be a big deal, but I feel I must actively oppose the American version of Santa Claus for two reasons

To begin with I don’t want to lie to my kids. Now this may be one of those “white” lies that don’t really count as a lie; it’s just pretend. This is the lesser of my two concerns, because I think it is the easier to deal with. Pretend and make-believe are very important to a child’s development and made up stories can help children learn very important lessons. Yet, there is a big difference between playing make- believe with your child and telling your child something is real when it is not. Part of playing make-believe is helping a child to learn what is real and not. As a child develops and starts to understand the difference between pretend and real it’s important we don’t trick them into believing something is real when it is actually pretend.

If we tell our children something is real when we know it is not, they may come to believe that many things we do believe are real and want them to believe are also pretend just like Santa Claus. They may come to conclude that Jesus is also a fairy tale too, as many adults have. They may come to reject our beliefs entirely, or they may come to think that all everything we taught is like Santa Claus a mythological/metaphorical story which teaches some deep spiritual truth, or an existential human construct (a lie we tell ourselves to give our meaningless lives a sense of meaning). Either way, when it comes time for our children to figure out which tales are true and which are make-believe they need to be able to trust us.

The second problem with Santa Claus, and this is for me the real big one, is that it distorts the Christian teaching of who God is and what we say Jesus came to this earth to do. When I was young I remember we were decorating the Christmas tree and I hurt myself, which made me cry. I then could not stop crying. Because, as I said to my dad, the song says “you better not pout, you better not cry”. I was devastated because I thought I wasn’t going to get anything for Christmas – Santa wasn’t going to come because I had cried. I think this is the moment when my parents made me understand that Santa was not real and I was still going to get presents even though I had cried when I was hurt. This story illustrates the problem with Santa Claus – Santa Claus is a legalist.

If you are good you earn rewards, if you are bad you get punished. This is not the Christian Gospel; this is not the story of Jesus. How terrible it is that at this time of year when we celebrate God’s ultimate demonstration of love and grace – in the incarnation of his son Emmanuel (God with us), so that he (Jesus, which means YaHWeH saves) may save us from our sins not because we have done anything good to earn his gifts, but in spite of our naughtiness he has showered us with love. This message is in direct opposition to the moralist Santa Claus story.

This is the primary reason I do not want to take part in the American Santa Claus myth. Not only can this story be used to teach children that father figures must be feared and only love those who earn their approval, but the way we apply it in our culture teaches two other destructive lessons. By teaching children they must be good to earn gifts, and then giving them gifts despite the fact that most of them aren’t really that good, we teach our children that the standard of goodness is very low. And if the standard of goodness is low, then why would they need Jesus to save them from their sins? But even worse, the Santa Claus myth teaches children that rich people are more virtuous than poor people. Poor people only get a few gifts because Santa doesn’t think they’ve been as good as the rich people who earn their stacks of gifts through their virtuous living.

I do plan on telling my children about St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) and I will tell them about a man who freely gave to people in need. This is a man who lived in a way that demonstrated the good news of Jesus. His story tells us about the love of God and the grace of Jesus. This is what Christmas should be about, giving freely without requirement.


Categories: Advent, Grace, Tradition