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De-Santafying Christmas

When our son was born, my wife and I had all the typical conversations had by most new parents.  What method of discipline would we use?  What was our policy on things like television, sugar, and toy-guns?  How much allowance would we give him?  Of course, added to this list of practical considerations were questions regarding the mythical characters that often surround childhood experiences.   Would he receive money from a ‘tooth fairy’?  Are Easter Eggs dropped by some invisible but magical bunny?  Of course, on top of the list was Santa himself.  My wife and I had a long conversation as to how we would deal with the ever constant ‘Santafying’ of Christmas.  As Christian parents, would how would we explain the difference between Santa and Jesus?  More so, what would be the fallout, after years of promoting a belief-system of Santa, of finally telling him that Santa did not actually exist?  Would he come to the conclusion that if we had lied about Santa, then perhaps we had lied about Jesus?

This may seem overly-dramatic, but this was a very real concern for us.  The end result of all our conversation was this: Santa doesn’t visit our house. Christmas in the Norman house is a generally a Santa-free zone.  Santa does not appear on any of our decorations nor do any of us receive presents from Santa.  We have been open and honest with our son about the fact that Santa is a made up character and not acutally a real person.

It’s amazing the responses we get when we tell people this.  We have been told that we are ‘robbing’ our son of his childhood; that we are possibly damaging his sense of wonder or imagination; or –my personal favorite – that we are denying part of what makes Christmas special (as if Jesus isn’t what makes Christmas special).  What I find amazing about all these comments is that most often they come from people within the church.  So before we hit yet another run of people asking our son what he hopes Santa will bring him, here are three reasons why Santa doesn’t visit our house.

Firstly, we don’t like Santa’s association with a system of merit:  Yes, Santa is a giver of gifts, but he is a giver of gifts to those who are on the ‘nice’ list.  Personally, I have overheard many parents say things like ‘if you misbehave Santa won’t bring you . .’  How is this beneficial to the joy and wonder of Christmas?  The child often bursts into tears in fear that they have not earned enough Santa-points to merit the better gifts.  As much as we like to see Santa as jolly and merry, the mythology around him is one of reward and or punishment.  If the child doesn’t get what he or she really wanted, it is not because the toy was too expensive, or the stores were out of stock, it is because they were not good enough.

Yet the gift of Jesus is anything but merit based.  The babe in the manger is a gift of grace, available to all.  Giving gifts at Christmas is reflective of the grand gift that we have in the Christ Child.  That ultimate present, wrapped in cloth and placed in a barn announces God’s undying love for us all, good or bad, clean or dirty.  My wife and I decided that our celebration of Christmas should reflect the grace which is at its core.   Why would we turn a celebration of grace into a system of merit or deserve?  Why would we want to confuse the message of ‘good news of great joy for all people’ with a fear that our son might be on the ‘naughty’ list?

Secondly, argue as you will for the historicity of St. Nick, the fact remains that our version of Santa was created by Coca Cola.  Santa as the red suited, white bearded individual was created by Haddon Sundblom in December 1931.  Our images of Santa were originally created to sell a soft-drink, plain and simple.  In fact, the Coca Cola’s Corporation’s own website declares that ‘Coca-cola helped shape the image of Santa’. (http://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/coke-lore-santa-claus).

The fact is, Christmas is commercial enterprise with Santa it’s chief sales-man.  As much as the publicists use the language of ‘the spirit of Christmas’, the modern day Santa does not bring joy and wonder to girls and boys; he brings products.  What is more, the subtle message in all Christmas commercial and Santa tales is that the bigger gifts equals better gifts.  Love is seen in how much you spend, not how much you give. For my wife and I, given the commercialization of a celebration so central to our faith, we simply wanted to make a concerned effort to keep our son’s focus where it should be.

Lastly, Jesus is more important.  I don’t think there is any way to state it more bluntly than that. Frankly, we would rather spend our time and effort telling our son about his Lord and Savior than some mythical fat dude who will only let him down in the end.  Why talk of one who doesn’t exist rather than the one who does?

Now obviously, we understand that not all families follow our line.  We have taught our son to be respectful of people’s celebration of Christmas, and to be polite when they talk about Santa, elves and reindeer.  Like I said, this is something that we do in our family in order to make sure that our focus is where it should be over the Christmas season.  That, after all, is the ultimate question isn’t it? What do you do to remain focused on Christmas as a celebration of God’s gift to us?  How do you cut through the noise made by jingles and cash-registers, so as to approach that manger with wonder, awe, and praise?

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith. Connect with Kyle on
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12 Responses to De-Santafying Christmas

  1. Doesn’t this put him under some form of ‘peer-pressure’ at school? especially in the first 2 0r 3 grades? most of his classmates and teachers will be cutting out ‘Santa’s ‘ for trees &c.

    Same thing at Easter, too but at least the baby chicks have been used by the Church for centuries as symbols of re-birth. (Of course, this aspect is down-played by ‘the World’ – including the school system.) (If they even knew of it in  the first place)

    anyway, you explain to your son why you (might) be having an extra service this coming Friday….

  2. Doesn’t this put him under some form of ‘peer-pressure’ at school? especially in the first 2 0r 3 grades? most of his classmates and teachers will be cutting out ‘Santa’s ‘ for trees &c.

    Same thing at Easter, too but at least the baby chicks have been used by the Church for centuries as symbols of re-birth. (Of course, this aspect is down-played by ‘the World’ – including the school system.) (If they even knew of it in  the first place)

    anyway, you explain to your son why you (might) be having an extra service this coming Friday….

  3. Kyle Norman

    Charlie, we have our son in a Catholic school, so Santa is a little downplayed anyway.  That was one of the reasons for going this route.  We want Solomon to be able to express freely his belief that Christmas and Easter are not about a mythical person, but about Jesus.

    He hasn’t expressed any difficulty.  We have taught him to be respectful, but to acknowledge that the dude in the mall isn’t actually Santa in any real capacity.  Mostly it is a lot of reframing.  Someone will tell him “Look, there’s Santa” and we will respond “That’s right, there is someone dressed up like Santa.’

    We can’t isolate our son from everything Santa related, however we can make sure that he has the ability to keep it in the right context.

  4. Kyle – my 1st thought on readying our message was that you and your wife are brave parents.  This is something that I have not heard of any other parents (Christian anyway) doing with their children, and certainly not something that we ever considered doing with our children.  I certainly understand your rationale.  Re your question:  “How do you cut through the noise made by jingles and cash-registers …”, I am doing it more and more by avoiding stores and malls altogether.  I am doing a lot more of my shopping, both at Christmas and throughout the year, online.  This allows me to avoid the following:  driving to the mall or nearest big box store, using gas, fighting for a parking spot, trudging through the snow to the mall/store, fighting the crowds in the mall/store, listening to the incessant piped in Christmas music, fighting my way back out of the mall/store … you get the picture.  I remain calm and peaceful sitting at my desk at my office, making my purchases online (usually free shipping if you purchase a certain minium amount) and I don’t have to come home harried and uptight after a night at a shopping mall,.  All in all it leaves me more relaxed and refreshed and able to enjoy the real joys of the season, as well as being in my opinion environmentally friendly.

  5. http://snopes.com/holidays/christmas/santa/cocacola.asp

    Did Coca-Cola Invent The Modern Image Of Santa Claus? No, that’s yet another myth.

    Let us love the Lord with all our mind.

  6. Todd – if you look at the Wikipedia entry; you’ll find an opposite opinion.  In fact if you do a google search of Santa Claus you’ll find that in addition to Snopes and Wikipedia, there are about another half dozen entries.

    And indeed the First great Commandment is to be obeyed at all times   …With all (our) heart and all (our) mind and with all our strength… and (our) neighbour(s) as (ourselves.

    But what has this to do with a secular Santa Claus?

  7. John – or another way, which I pursued (?) this year is to pick up appropriate items at a museum, art gallery or the like during the course of a visit – in my case at the beginning of November.   Hmmm, he/she might like that ….

    But malls are horrid places just now…. I heard, if you can believe it, some ‘shopping incentive aural stimulation” two weeks ago ‘On the first day of Christmas….”  The ‘first day?’    in mid November?  Well perhaps they’re using the Aztec/Mayan calendar – so we will spent all our money before Dec 21st. (Incidentally – do you suppose this Aztec date might be in some way to the Fiscal Cliff?)

  8. Kyle Norman

    Todd, what I actually said was that our version of Santa was created by Coca Cola.  If you close your eyes and picture Santa, who do you see? You see the person created in 1931 for advertising.  The link I have on the post will take you to one of the original pictures.  Santa, the idea, may predate Coca Cola, but the red suited, white bearded, fat and jolly old man was created as an advertising gimmick.

    Hope that clarifies my position.  Thank you for including your scripture reference.  I’m glad you appreciate the thoughtfulness I put into my posts.  Blessings.

     

  9. Kyle – I posted your entry on my Facebook page this afternoon and heard back from a former student (now on her second degree) that she had been raised without Santa Claus -for the same reasons you cite – and then also from a retired priest and friend who mentioned having done something similar with their children 30 years ago…  Interesting that perhaps this is more widespread than I might have thought (though done pretty quietly!)

  10. Hi Kyle;

    My wife and I are doing a similar thing with our kids. We tend to avoid images of Santa and don’t give presents in Santa’s name. Our eldest is in the public school system, so that can be a bit of a challenge in dealing with the secular Xmas things like Santa Claus, but he seems to roll with it without much fuss. I think he’s interested in the secular Santa, but he doesn’t seem to be very much worried about it. At least, right now.

    We do talk to him about the historical St. Nicholas of Myra (whose feast day is today!), whose story is the ultimate origin of the Santa myth (through a highly tortured and twisted route which ends up with the Coca Cola Santa you refer to). We mention that he gave money to three girls for dowries (so they could be married and not be human trafficked- although we don’t necessarily explain that part very much) which is the origin of giving gifts on St. Nicholas’ Day (and, eventually, Christmas). . We even mention the probably apocryphal story that has St. Nicholas punching the arch-heretic, Arius in the nose at the Council of Nicaea, but this last story is largely because I’m a church history geek. We also note he lived in the 5th century and is certainly dead, not living at the North Pole nor is he is a jolly old elf. Really, I kind of like this St. Nicholas of Myra- he’s generous, aware of social justice issues and just fierce enough to be interesting.

    We are, also, really careful to tell our son that he should respect the beliefs of his school and church mates and not tell them that Santa isn’t real. He doesn’t seem to feel especially deprived, although the fact that we don’t have cable, so any videoes he sees are either videos from the library (some cartoons like Arthur, or Curious George and some vehicle building videoes) or YouTube videoes of various things being built. That means very little exposure to commercials which really is what feeds the commercialization of Christmas.

    Kids adapt well to the environments they live in, so, with this kind of decision, they frequently just take it for granted that this is just how it is in their house. Maybe we’ll have more issues when our sons get older, but so far, very little.

    Phil

  11. Sharon Harding

    Santa didn’t visit our house either and I do not believe that our children suffered as a result. Our boys never went through the awkward phase of discovering that Santa was not real. The biggest problem we had was trying to answer their questions about why other parents lied to their children. There were a couple of awkward moments when other parents realized that our children had blown the whistle on the whole Santa conspiracy 🙂

  12. Your right to disabuse your children of a myth, however benevolent, ends with my children. After all, Jesus said ‘Tell no one I am Messiah’.

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