Monday, December 22, 2008

Day 9: Santa-ism

I am astonished at the vituperative comments and personal attacks over at Recursivity after Jeff Shallit "confessed" that his family does not subscribe to the religion of Santa-ism. Accusations of ruining the spirit of Christmas, destroying the wonder of childhood, and being self-righteous, dour and humourless abound.

Eamon and I were Christians (albeit fairly liberal by that time) when our children were young. The fact that, when we ourselves were growing up, Eamon's family was agnostic, and mine was secular Jewish, and neither of us had a tradition of Santa-belief probably made it easier for us. One of the main reasons we decided not to deceive our kids about Santa being real and bringing Christmas presents was because we felt that knowingly lying to our kids about Santa would cause them to doubt the veracity of other things we taught them to believe in - ie about Christianity and God. (This does seem rather ironic, in retrospect, as the 21-year-old pointed out to us recently.)

So from an early age, our kids knew that Santa was pretend. And none of the Christmas gifts we gave were "from" Santa, though when he was about 5, our younger son (who happens to have been born on December 25) decided he should dress up as Santa and give out the presents. (Oops, I guess that could not have really happened, since our kids apparently were raised to have no imagination.)

One of the commenters on Recursivity said,
You never know how a child will react to anything you do. My parents took the same approach that you have chosen to take. Santa was never real, just a story. Now that I am older and I hear the stories of my friends from when they were young and I see the joy in children's faces when they think that Santa is coming or when they are writing him a letter, I know my parents robbed me of an experience that I will never be able to duplicate.
Parents and children can have shared joy in pretending, even when everyone knows it's make-believe. There was no pretense about Santa Claus for my kids, but someone filled their stockings with candy and toys while they slept. Everyone knew there was no Easter Bunny, but someone hid plastic eggs around the house. My kids even left notes for the Easter Bunny on a few occasions.

I'll certainly stand up for the imagination and wonder with which I raised my kids against the cynicism of this commenter:
We use the fallacy of santa to control our kids. It worked when I was a kid, and it works with my kids. Soon after you learn the truth, you also learn why it is such a great tool. Kids don't have to grow up so fast.
It's this sort of attitude that results in kids being scared to tell their parents they don't believe because they think they won't get presents any more. Perhaps even worse are the kids who have stopped believing in Santa (at around 9 or 10), but they see that this myth seems to be so important to their parents that they continue to pretend. This is not an approach that fosters open communication between parents and children.

No comments: