Monday, January 5, 2009

What's the deal with Santa?

I thought about blogging on this topic before Christmas, but never really got into it. I was first inspired by a post from a friend of mine who was concerned about teaching her children about Santa Claus due to it not being true (well, the whole North Pole-living, elf-employing guy) and the genuine worry that it takes the focus off of the true meaning of Christmas. I ended up discussing it with a few of my family members over the holidays and didn't think anything more of it until I got a nice Christmas letter today from a friend who has decided to avoid altogether mentioning Santa to her child. These two mentions are hardly the first; they're just the most recent, so no, I'm not targeting anyone specifically! =)

Now, first off, I am not trying to tell people how to be parents especially in light of the fact that I do not have kids yet. That said, while I lack parenting experience, I do not lack the experience of being parented. In other words I know what worked on me and why. So, from there I looked back on my own childhood, which did involve a belief in Santa Claus. I don't remember my parents really promoting the idea much at all, but on the flip side, they never discouraged the idea either. At the same time I do remember the mentioning of the birth of the Savior constantly, so it was definitely a part of my Christmas celebrations, but as a young child there really wasn't much to that story beyond a baby being born. When we got presents on Christmas Day, most of our presents were from our parents and a few (if any) would be from "Santa" (Even now we still get an occasional present from "Santa."). We even did the cookies and milk thing for years. Now, here I am at 26 years old and somehow I still believe in the importance of remembering the Savior at Christmas, am active in Church, served a full-time mission, and have come to really enjoy the non-material aspects at Christmas like giving and spending time with family. My belief in Santa? Well, I'm not exactly sure when I stopped believing, but it wasn't a huge event for me; it was more of a gradual realization as I got older and used logic. It certainly wasn't a traumatic event since I don't even remember a specific point where I suddenly found out. It just happened.

The first thing to understand is that if you are active in church, your kids will be getting the religious aspect of Christmas, plus most of us are not completely void of religious symbolism or talk in our homes (like a nativity scene or religious Christmas music). Most of the familiar Christmas carols also are religious in nature; in fact most of the secular songs are just that: songs, not carols. One important thing my mom told me was that when she thought about all this before she had kids one thing she came to understand is that Santa and his role of giving is a simple concept that young children can understand. As wonderful and important as the Atonement of Jesus Christ is, it is not a concept that a young child can really grasp yet. And as I mentioned previously, I was more than aware of the Savior's birth at Christmastime and that Christmas was celebrating that event. Even with that knowledge, it was little more than surface knowledge simply due to how old I was and how much I could understand at that age. Let's also not forget the historical context of Santa Claus: Saint Nicolas. Santa Claus evolved from an actual person who gave gifts to those in need, a trait that is hardly something we should avoid and a trait that is very Christlike indeed.

Second, Santa Claus is a part of our culture. Is it "unethical" or wrong to "teach" children about something that isn't totally true? Perhaps, but if you're going to fault that tradition, then you better stop celebrating Christmas altogether on December 25th. While you're at it, don't get a Christmas Tree either. What??? Yep, as Latter-day Saints we believe Jesus was born April 6th anyway, plus contemporary evidence suggests he was born in late March or early April as well. What we do know is that he was almost certainly not born on December 25th. The most likely reason for celebrating Christmas on the 25th is simply the blending of Pagan traditions (winter solstice holiday) with Christian observances in the early development of the Christian Church after the Church emerged favored, protected, and as a political power in the late Roman Empire. The same goes for the Christmas Tree. While we actually don't know much about the origins of the Christmas Tree, it is likely they have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Oh, and let's not forget those nativity scenes that have the three wise men. Not only do we only assume there were three wise men (only three gifts were presented; the Bible does not say how many people brought them) but they were certainly not there the night of his birth. In fact, it is estimated the wise men did not show up until Jesus was around 2 years old.

Do you see how this could get carried away? I am certainly not opposed to the many traditions that our culture has adopted in relation to Christmas because I recognize them for the part of our culture they have become as well as their lack of harm. We had a Christmas Tree, a nativity scene, and most definitely celebrated Christmas on December 25th. Can the secular and material aspects of Christmas be taken too far? Absolutely, but just remember, all of us will have to deal with them eventually, whether it be with other family members, at school, or in the community. That doesn't mean we need to totally embrace them, but we shouldn't be ignorant of them either, nor are they all bad. As Latter-day Saints and also as Christians, we still need to be "in" the world. How can we have influence for good over those around us if we don't understand their traditions or we are regarded as "weird" because we shun them? There is nothing wrong with a child using his or her imagination to believe in Santa Claus. In fact, using the imagination is a vital part of a child's development. It's really no different in them "believing" in or emulating a fictional superhero or anything like it. And buying gifts? My experience as a kid buying gifts was an excellent lesson in thinking about someone else and learning how to stay within a budget. Please tell me how that is bad.

Anyway, that's my rant. I believe there is nothing wrong with letting kids believe in Santa Claus and even playfully encouraging it. Should kids be led to believe that all their gifts come from Santa? Hardly, but allowing them to use their imaginations for such a brief time in their lives won't hurt their religious convictions nor will it hurt their trust in their parents in the long run. Like with most things in life, even all the aspects of Christmas-- the secular and sacred-- need a balance.


Kjersti said...

I think my sister has found a really good balance with my nieces (who are 4 & 5) She told them that Santa is make believe like faries, elves, mermaids and things like that. She tells them that some people believe Santa is real, and that's ok, but her kids don't get any presents from Santa. It's really funny at Christmastime when my nieces see all the "Santa's" at various locales and all the adults try to keep the illusion alive...

Unknown said...

We always figured you are only young once...and it should be fun! Life gets way to serious way to fast. It is fun to share in the excitement of Santa with the children. It restores the happiness of being a child to all those who witness their reactions. My children (who are older) never have been confused about what is make believe and what is truth. The gospel is truth.

Becky said...

I think you make good points. I don't think there is anything wrong with letting children believe in Santa as long as it's done in moderation, as all things should be, including the sacred aspects of Christmastime.

Basically, amen to that post.

Unknown said...

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Come and visit...

Anonymous said...

I believe in Santa still.

fyi. :)

we even celebrate St. Nicholas day, which is how we have introduced the notion of Santa ... now that the kids are too old to "believe" this year, it was kind of sad in a way - the anticipation of the morning and all ... but guess what!! Santa still came! muah ha ha ha!

;) Tina