The idea of Santa Claus keeps me up at night. Not because I, along with my more than eager son, am listening for the unlikely sound of reindeer hoofs on my worn out roof (personal note to Santa: if you do in fact exist, please don’t land your sleigh on the roof. I don’t think it will hold under your substantial weight). No, my nocturnal ponderings of Santa have more to do with (attention: spoiler alert!) the idea of perpetuating the myth of Santa Claus for the children in my life. I, along with voiceless others, am hardly convinced that inviting Santa Claus into our collective consciousness is all that much of a good thing.
While I was raised with Christmas and the idea of Santa Claus, I don’t have any real memory of truly believing in him. That said, I was always fond of the idea and recall partaking in the Santa-centric festivities without prejudice. Now I, along with countless other parents the world over, am keeping the myth/hope alive by perpetuating the idea that every December 24th a philanthropic, but albeit judgmental, fat man bestows gifts upon all the good girls and boys of the world. Sure I see the gleam of unadulterated joy and wonder in the eyes (and possibly hearts) of the children around me. I witness the excitement and anticipation of Christmas morning, and how, in a strange way, it bonds us all together through the imagination of our children (at least temporarily). But is feeding the myth just another way of justifying a grand lie (not to be confused with a “white lie”) that may just be serving us more than it serves them?
OK, I could already hear the hate mail coming in, but just stay with me on this. As a parent, in order to cultivate a real belief in Santa Claus for your children you must lie. This is a fact, as we grown adults all know (spoiler alert!) that Santa is simply a beloved myth. And this lie, in order for it to be effective and engaging, is required to expand and develop over time to counteract any natural childhood skepticism. False evidence needs to be fabricated; true evidence needs to be concealed, all in effort to maintain a childlike belief in something that seems to be for the greater good. To me, as a general rule, lying to your children is never advisable and just seems to jettison any prospect for the greater good.
Is the idea of Santa Claus more rooted in favor of the parents than the children? So much of what is stressed at Christmas is this idea of Santa being this all-seeing, omnipotent, judge of our character. If children are naughty they get coal, if they are nice the get gifts. Doesn’t this work more in favor for adults, rather than the children, as a form of behavioral control leading the children to believe that a whole person could be judged by a few simple acts or misdeeds? This seems to promote the idea that all action should be taken for the sake of material and tangible reward, rather than personal growth or satisfaction. As parents we seem to be wittingly or unwittingly dictating our children’s behavior by holding over their heads the idea of a condemnatory stranger.
Now in no way am I advocating a banishment of Santa Claus from the Christmas tradition. I do see room for Santa to maintain his good standing with the holiday tradition as a beloved myth, and not collective untruth. The Santa iconography could remain intact as a symbol of Christmas and the season, but he will be cleansed of his discrimination and judgment of children, and instead be a symbol of generosity, charity, and unconditional love. Maybe, by handing over all of the Christmas glory to Santa Claus we are missing a golden opportunity to reveal something to our children more illuminating and revealing about being a parent: the genuine desire of simply wanting to bestow a sense of magic and hope upon our children through tradition, stories, generosity of spirit, and quite lastly gifts.