Thursday, January 7, 2010

Judgey Jeudi - The Santa Scheme

Christmastime is over, but I have given it some thought, and I've decided there is just to much darn hypocrisy around Christmas. Not the commercialism. I mean, that's a little ridiculous too, but talking about that is just beating the proverbial deceased horse.

No, I'm talking about the man in the red suit. St. Nick, Chris Cringle, Papai Noel. In other words, Santa Clause. He's a beloved figure, bursting with good cheer and last Christmas's cookies. He's even based on a real person, sort of. You can get the story of St. Nicholas and his Modern adaptation here and here. I would tell you all about it, but frankly, it's late and I'm lazy.

Santa is a beloved holiday figure, and with good reason. Kids love him because he brings them toys. Parents love him because he's an awesome bribe.

As I get closer to having my own children, however, it occurs to me that by perpetuating the Santa Claus thing, we are doing something that we scold and berate our children for: We're lying. Now, now, don't argue. There's no way around it. Santa Claus is fictional. He isn't real. He's fake, and yet every year we call him real and tell our children that Santa brings them presents. Every single year, we participate in the largest conspiracy ever concocted, and for what? For a lie on this scale and of this magnitude, one would think we were hiding something so damaging, so disturbing, that tiny minds would be driven to insanity if they knew the truth. But we aren't. We are hiding that Mommy and Daddy buy the presents, which strikes me as pretty far from a damaging reality.

Laying the lying thing aside, the Santa thing provides difficulties to tiny minds. Firstly, all kids stop believing at some point, and all kids know that they will stop believing at some point. It's just this tiny, niggling knowledge that sits in the back of their minds. Even 4 year olds know they won't always believe. They've seen Polar Express. They know how this stuff works. Interestingly enough, The Year, the year any given child stops believing is met with sadness and bittersweet memories by most adults. Any other person finally figuring out that they had been lied to for 8 to 10 years would be applauded for finally seeing through the ruse. That critical year, though, is like initiation. It's the year older kids are let in on the lie and we ensure that our grandchildren will have the tinsel-covered wool pulled over their eyes as well. We seal that sweet little deal with the whispered words "Just don't tell your sister!" The threat of "Or I'll maim you" is implied. Secondly, children, especially in public school, will notice that Santa doesn't bring as much to the poor kids, or, that if you are a poor kid, Santa brings more to the rich kids, and he doesn't visit some kids at all. Thirdly, most kids are at least vaguely aware of the fact that the mechanics don't make any sense. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for, and they notice all the holes in the Santa scheme, but don't say anything, because there is always that silent threat that, once you stop believing, Santa stops bringing. I noticed all the difficulties at four, and struggled with them, as much as a child struggles with anything, for the next six years, because even though I got Mom to admit to me that Santa was fake, we still perpetuated the Santa thing for years, and I couldn't wrap my head around the discrepancy.

What I don't understand is why? What are we hoping to accomplish by telling our children about Santa Claus? And really, where is the problem with children knowing that presents are given because we love one another, and not as a reward for good behavior from some Benevolent Peeping Tom? Imagine Christmas without Santa, or with him as a fun movie character, but out of the spotlight. Maybe instead of Christmas presents as a bribe and as a reward for good behavior, they can be an example of kindness when maybe we haven't been as nice as we should that year. It's a tiny analogy for grace, really. We could teach our children about gratitude (because who is really thankful to a mysterious omniscient stranger who lives with penguins?) and about giving of ourselves.

PS: Parents - Your kids notice that Santa doesn't bring you anything. Biggest hole in the lie, exhibit A.

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