Yeah, the title is a little over the top, but I figured it would get more hits than my first idea, “Santa Is Just Alright with Me.” Lots of folks are probably too young to remember the Doobie Brothers, anyway.
“Santa is Spelled with the Same Letters as Satan!”, exclamation mark and all, is a direct quote from several websites warning unwary Christians about the dangers of the jolly old elf in the red suit. Speaking of which . . . Santa wears red, Satan is red (a red dragon, no less – Revelation 12:3)! Coincidence?
I’m not linking to any of those sites because there are enough folks out there making Christians look silly. Google will assist you if you really want to check them out. Try “Santa Claus, Satan’s Cause” (nice rhyme!) to start.
On the other hand, have you ever seen Santa and Satan in the same place at the same time? Hmmmm. . .
But seriously folks . . . there are thoughtful Christians who are concerned about Santa’s prevalence without getting all Rosemary’s Baby about it. Again, you can Google lots of essays about why folks are choosing not to do the Santa thing with their kids. I’m in a Facebook group with other ELCA pastors, and in a few threads that have popped up on the topic, a good number have posted that they are raising Santa-free kids.
I certainly respect those decisions. I’m not going to argue here that they’re wrong or bad or doing Christmas wrong. Sure, Santa can crowd out Christ if we’re not careful, too much emphasis on Santa can accentuate materialism, and I can understand parents’ reluctance to “lie” to their kids.
My perspective on that last one is different, though. I don’t think what Karen and I did when we took our kids to sit on Santa’s lap or helped them write Santa letters or put out cookies for him on Christmas Eve was lying. It was more playing a game of make-believe, sort of like when we got down on the floor and played with their “real” dolls or their “real” action figures or their “real” Fisher Price Towns.
What was going on was imagination, and I’d argue that kids need more imagination, not less. We’re growing kids up too fast, exposing them to the “real world” of conflict and violence way before they are developmentally ready for it. I was a lot more concerned about protecting my kids from the nightly news than I was making sure they knew the “truth” about Santa. (In fourth grade -2006 – my daughter was rebuked by the teacher because she was the only one who didn’t know what happened on 9/11. I’m sort of proud of that, actually.)
Imagination is not just something that little kids need to believe in fantasies like Santa. Imagination allows us to “picture” what it was like to live in the past, or what it is like to live somewhere else in the world now. Imagination gives us the capacity to think beyond what is real, and to dream of making the things better. Imagination is a pre-requisite for empathy, the ability to think outside of ourselves and consider the thoughts and feelings of others.
Imagination allows us to believe that a baby born in a manger 2000 years ago would grow up to save the world. We need imagination not because it’s untrue, but because we didn’t experience it ourselves.
I’m not saying playing the Santa game is the only way to enhance a child’s imagination, or that without Santa the imagination will be stunted, but I certainly believe families “doing Santa” are engaging in imagining together. And that’s very cool.
Rather than faith-threatening, isn’t it possible that doing Santa can be faith-enhancing for kids, stretching their imagination “muscles?”
Now, some folks are afraid their kids will be disillusioned when they find out Santa isn’t “real,” and that maybe their kids will never believe anything they say again. I’m sorry, but that’s just silly. Young people are smarter than we give them credit for; they may be disappointed at first, but allowed to process they can appreciate the fun they had playing the Santa game, and can indeed continue to play it for the benefit of their younger siblings (or their parents who don’t want them to grow up quite so fast!)
The decision to do Santa or not is one, like many, best left to parents.
I do have one concern, though, about Santa, or more exactly about the way Santa gets used as a disciplinary shortcut. You know what I mean, “Be good or Santa won’t bring you any presents!”
When I was young enough to believe in Santa my mom would put a calendar on my closet door after Thanksgiving. At the end of each day, I’d get a star on the calendar. Gold if I was really good, Silver if I was pretty good, Green if I was pushing it, and Red if I’d spent most of the day confined to my room. The idea was that Santa would check the calendar when he came on Christmas Eve, and the presents I got would be commensurate with the color of my stars. A calendar filled with gold would mean toys and bikes and maybe even a TV. That was never going to happen. Lots of red meant you only got switches and coal for Christmas.
I guess as a behavior modifier it worked, sometimes. I still got some red stars, though . . .
This manipulation has only gotten worse with the advent of the Elf on the Shelf, who is Santa’s Little Drone – supposedly he reports back to Santa on the behavior of the boys and girls he haunts in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Although we raised our kids believing in Santa, Karen and I never tied his gift-giving to their behavior. This is why . . .
We didn’t believe anything about Christmas should be tied into carrots and sticks.
Jesus was born not because we were “good,” but because we couldn’t be. We needed unearned forgiveness because there was no way we could deserve it.
It makes sense that Santa, as an element of the celebration of Christ’s birth, would be about Grace as well. If there is a lesson to be learned from playing the Santa game, it is that children are loved no matter who they are, no matter what they do.
After all, that’s the message of Christmas. The ultimate gift of all – Jesus – was given by God no matter who we are, no matter what we have done.