Thursday, December 4, 2014

Santa or no Santa?

I have to admit, I am always a little bit flabbergasted when Christians treat Santa as though he were Satan.  Santa is a nice guy and a fun tradition.  I'm not going to tell you how to handle him, but I will share how we did, back in the day.

Going into the Santa issue, way back when I was the mother of a wee lass and a wee lad, I did have a hang up:  The Santa legend is not the truth.  There is no real character who rides in a sleigh, pulled by reindeer, all around the world on Christmas Eve, delivering toys down chimneys.

Now, it is fine to have games and to play pretend.  However, the idea of actually lying to my children about the Santa tradition did not sit well with me, especially since I wanted them to know that Jesus is real and that we celebrate His incarnation at Christmastime because it is true and important.  I didn't want them to get to be, say, 12, and wonder, "Well, if they lied about Santa, then maybe they lied about the Jesus thing too, and that's just as phony and pretend."  No, I did not want that to happen.

But I don't have any problem with the idea of Santa.  I think it's fun to hang stockings, and to read "The Night Before Christmas," and even to go to the mall and sit on Santa's lap and get a candy cane.

The first year it became an issue, Shannon was three and David was one and a half.  I really hadn't said much about it, just sort of avoided it.  We focused on stories of the nativity, and we were blessed to have Shannon at a preschool where they celebrated Christmas as Jesus' birthday.

That year, I did not put any presents under the tree until after the children went to bed on Christmas Eve (allowing us to avoid a host of discipline issues!).

On Christmas morning, Shannon and Davey awoke, climbed out of their beds, and started down the stairs.  There in the living room, a big pile of gifts now sat beneath the Christmas tree, and we had arranged a new little play table and chairs, with a tea set for Shannon, all laid out and ready for them to have some pretend tea.

Shannon saw the array of gifts filling our small living room, and immediately she halted on the stair steps, throwing out her arm as a barrier to block Davey from going any farther.

"Stop, Davey," she commanded, "don't go there."  Then, turning to look at me, full of caution, she demanded, "Who put all these stuffs in our house?"

I could see the wheels turning in her little head.  It looked to her as though that fat man in the red velvet suit had been sneaking around in our house in the middle of the night, and she did not warm to that idea, not one bit.

"I put them there," I told her.  "And Daddy.  Daddy helped me.  We did it after you fell asleep last night."

She looked unconvinced.  She did not budge.  She was having none of it.

Finally after much explanation and reassurance ("Honey, the door was locked all night, and we don't even have a fireplace! He couldn't have gotten in if he had tried!  I've been hiding things in the downstairs closet for weeks!"), she tentatively ushered her little brother into the room and they hesitantly began to check out their new toys.

After that, I did a little bit of research on St. Nick, and educated my children thus:

Long ago, there live a man named Saint Nicholas.  He was a man who loved God very much.  He also loved to give gifts to people, in secret.

(That part is true and documented.  The rest, which follows, I mostly made up out of my head, although there is some reason to think that it is loosely true):

St. Nicholas loved to celebrate Jesus' birthday just as much as we do.  However, he knew that some children lived in families that were too poor to buy them any presents on Jesus' birthday, and this made him sad.  These children were so poor that they only had one pair of socks apiece, if you can imagine.  Every night, the children would wash out their one pair of socks and hang them up in front of the fire to dry while they slept, so they could have clean socks in the morning.  

Saint Nicholas knew about how these children hung their socks up in front of the fire.  He also wanted very badly for them to have something special to enjoy on Jesus' birthday, while the wealthier children were celebrating and feasting.  So, on Christmas Eve, after the poor children had hung up their stockings and fallen asleep, Saint Nicholas crept into their homes and slipped coins into their stockings, surprises for them to discover on Christmas morning.  Saint Nicholas was very happy to think of how amazed and delighted the children would be when they woke up!

Saint Nicholas did his kind deeds many, many long years ago.  Now he is in heaven with Jesus.  However, he was so kind and good that we still remember him.  We hang up stockings in our homes at Christmastime, filling them with special surprises, so we can remember to be kind and generous like Saint Nicholas.  We call him "Santa Claus" now (can you hear how those names sound similar?), and we try to follow his example of helping everyone have a Merry Christmas.

Back in those days, I also used to give my children money to drop in the Salvation Army bucket, which they enjoyed, connecting the activity with the tale of Saint Nicholas.

We have not told this story for a long time.  Also, I am sad to say that I stopped arming my children with quarters before December WalMart trips a very long time ago.  Still, that is how we used to celebrate Santa, and I am not sorry that we did.


Lindsay Davis said...

Thanks Ruth. That was helpful, as this is the stage we are in now. We have chosen to not do lie about Santa, for the same reasons you did. Our hang out is how to respond to other people of different beliefs (particularly those who cannot image why we would deprive our children of such a joy) Particularly- #1-Lucy wanting to inform everyone that Santa is pretend (despite my many efforts to convince her that we don't want to spoil other people's fun if they want to pretend) And #2- what to tell our kids about how to respond to the nice lady in the store who asks them what Santa is bringing. Any suggestions?

ruth said...

Hi Lindsay! I wouldn't worry about what your kids say to "the nice lady in the store" who asks about Santa. It just doesn't matter. We have sometimes designated some gifts under the tree as "from Santa," even though the kids clearly knew they were from us. (You could even say: "I'm going to buy your Santa present today!") Usually these were the least practical of the gifts, or sometimes funny. You could develop a tradition like this and see what kind of answers-for-the-nice-lady spring from it.

As far as ruining other people's fun, that's tougher. At a church we used to attend (not Beacon!) one of my friends taught 5th-6th grade Sunday school. One year around Christmas, she told the students something that she prefaced with "Of course, we all know that Santa is just pretend..." Unfortunately, one of the children in the class had NOT known that, and his mother went in a fury to the pastor in charge of Christian Education and gave him an earful. I would have had no sympathy for a mother who was blatantly lying to an 11-year-old about such a thing. If I'd been that pastor, I'd have told the mother, "Church is a place for truth, and we teach the truth here. I am sorry that you are upset, but I think you need to re-examine your priorities." (This is one reason why I am not a pastor, besides the fact that I am a woman and I have no knowledge of Greek.)

I guess I'd just encourage Lucy not to talk about Santa, but don't feel too bad if she does anyway. People generally believe what they want to believe, regardless of the facts, and that goes for children and Santa as much as anything else. (i.e. She probably isn't really going to ruin anything for anybody.) It's probably a difficult concept for her to grasp, "Spoiling other people's fun if they want to pretend," so maybe if you just said, "Talking about Santa can make people angry, and since he is not very important, let's just not talk about him." Or even, "Santa is not very important, but Jesus is important. When people talk about Santa, we should tell them about Jesus, and how the real reason for Christmas is that Jesus was born as a baby who came to save the world."

Shannon said...

So that picture of the Santa nightlight is pretty terrifying. It is fascinating how creepy it is.


That Santa nightlight always reminds me of when it arrived in a little white box as a present from a student (I think it was a present to Laura from one of the 3-4 year old Sunday school children, may have been for both, may have been from tiny dancers).

We pulled it out and plugged him in and didn't realize that good old nightlight Santa could be rotated on the plug. When he came out of the box, he was upside-down, and I laughed until I cried at the absurdity of a Santa nightlight that could only be plugged in upside-down, with Santa's head nearly grazing the floor.

Of course we eventually figured it out, but that particular memory always makes me laugh a little. Do you remember that?

ruth said...

Yes! I do remember that story, and I remember that (shockingly) I am the one who discovered that Santa could be rotated on his power pack. He was upside down for quite awhile before I discovered this, and so low that I feared I'd break him every time I vacuumed.

ruth said...

And, for the record, "every time I vacuumed," says a lot more about how long we left the decorations up than about how often I vacuumed. Just saying.