Friday, December 17, 2010

Santa Claus and Children

Over at Conversion Diary, the always great Jennifer Fulwiler asks the Santa Clause question.

Guilty confession: We do Santa at our house, but I have misgivings about it. In theory, I think it’s a great tradition. . . . I’m trying to like Santa here. But in practice it just feels kind of weird. On the one hand, I don’t want to associate Santa too closely with Jesus, since, well, one is more real than the other. On the other hand, it’s a constant battle not to let the guy with the shiny gifts overshadow the humble baby in the manger. As much as I try to emphasize Santa as Jesus’ helper, a Christian saint, etc. the pop culture images of him as THE AWESOME DUDE WITH THE INFINITE GIFT-GIVING POWER seem to trump in my children’s collective subconscious.

There are many good comments regarding children and Santa Claus. One mother pointed out a danger about Santa, when her daughter told her, "you told us the Tooth Fairy and Santa were real, and they’re not. So, it’s hard for me to believe God is real.” I responded,

Santa is real, just as God is real. But one is metaphor and the other is the real deal.

Properly understood, “Santa” is not the commercialized guy of the materialistic modern world, but is instead an icon of the Son of God Himself and, hence, a model for us.

Another comment said, "My husband said yesterday, 'This whole debate is crazy. No one is LYING. Santa IS real. He’s a mythical character who represents the spirit of anonymous giving.' Pretty wise, I thought." In response, I wrote,

This is largely right. A better word would be metaphorical or symbolic, rather than mythical.

“Santa Claus” is indeed real — he is representative of the giving and joy that we are each called to, and which originates in God giving Himself to us on Christmas morning.

The only problem is in not locking yourself in by presenting Santa in such a fashion that one cannot then later explain exactly who “Santa” is. Yes, he was an actual real historical person by the name of Nicholas. And the clothes that he wears (red suit, white lining) are the real historical clothes worn by bishops. But the “Santa” of today is you and me. Santa is us, who are called to give to others.

Thus, it is probably wise, when kids see all the various “Santas” at the mall, to explain that that is not really Santa, but “Santa’s helper.” That can bridge the gap to later telling the children that “Santa” is symbolic, that the real Santa is each of us and, more importantly, that they are Santa too, they are called to self-giving.

Maybe this is where the Easter Bunny can play an invaluable service.

Like Santa, the Easter Bunny is filled with Christian symbolism. But, generally, it is rather transparent that the "Easter Bunny" is mom and dad, what with him leaving the very same eggs that the kids were painting a couple of days before. Nevertheless, there is, in the Easter Bunny, that symbolism and message of giving (even if it is the giving of eggs and candy). And if kids can "believe" in the Easter Bunny without having a crisis of faith, knowing that it is really just fun and games, that he is really mom and dad, perhaps the example of the Easter Bunny can be used to later explain how Santa is really representative of Jesus and us.

If done right, parents can avoid the two extremes of teaching fantasy and lies to children on the one hand and being a grumpy wet-blanket Grinch on the other. Fostering a belief in "Santa Claus" can be a teaching tool if carefully done, a tool that leads children to Christ and His call to love one another.

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See also The Real Saint Nicholas
.

1 comment:

Marija said...

My husband and I decided we would not tell our kids about Santa Claus. In my 60's now and I still remember the day my father told me there was no Santa Claus. How disappointed I was, for I had been a true believer. This experience probably influenced me not to tell our 4 kids about Santa, so they all had to grow up enjoying Christmas in spite of not having the belief in Santa. To this day, however, I am glad we never lied to them. It is indeed a lie and at one point you will have to tell them it was really not true. No Easter bunny and no Santa, but our kids all grew up happily celebrating each year Christ's birth and His resurrection with gifts, holiday foods and family get togethers.