November 28th, 2006

Sayonara, Santa

Marjorie posted on T&S an editorial submitted to the Deseret News about Santa. This well-written article supports my own stance on the detrimental effects of teaching children the existence of Santa Clause (not to mention detracting from the true meaning of the Holiday… but I digress).

Years ago as a young mother I had some reservations about making over much about Santa, but Santa did come. Then one Spring afternoon more than 30 years ago while teaching a rather large church class of nine year olds one of the girls raised her hand and said, “When I found out that Santa Claus wasn’t real, I didn’t think God or Jesus were either.” The class just exploded with everyone wanting to talk at once. These children were still close enough to the “big discovery” that their memories on the subject were keen and close to the surface. Most had felt betrayed to one degree or another by the people they loved and trusted the most. They also openly wondered about what else they might have been told that wasn’t true.

They had been told by adults they trusted that Santa was real. They had seen Santa and talked to him. Santa was everywhere visible and talked about. And Santa delivered! If what they had been told about Santa was not true, then what could they believe? Who could they believe? This was a sobering day.

I believe that adults build up Santa for their own pleasure (although they all claim to be doing it for the children.) Conversely children’s souls hunger for the truth. They want to be treated respectfully and taken seriously. (None of us like to be the ones “not in the know.”) How the world really works is serious business and one of the most compelling developmental challenges of childhood. Imagining and wondering and exploring are important but truth is still the standard.

I don’t think you need to be hard nosed about Santa. Little children can hold onto several discrepant theories simultaneously. But even these children should not be told things are true which we know are not. We learned that with the youngest children Santa can be played broadly as pretend and “just for fun” with little of the magic being lost.

Indeed, if the very people with whom a child has developed a trusting relationship then turn around and say “just kidding, the joke’s on you!”, what other fundamental truths previously taught to that child become questioned and doubted, consciously or subconsciously? I see no reason to teach the existence of Santa to my children; sure, for kicks and giggles I might “play along”, yet I will make sure that my children are aware that he, like the Cookie Monster and Bob the Builder, is “make believe”.

20 Responses to “Sayonara, Santa”

  1. Jeff
    November 28, 2006 at 1:54 am #

    Just wait until you have kids, then your point of view will change. Santa is a great thing for kids. If we teach them the virtues of giving, which is what Santa embodies, and not the virtues of receiving, which is what Christmas has become, then Christmas will be wholly Christian, which is what we desire.

    There is a great book that my mom reads every year to her grandkids (she used to read it to her kids; that’s how old the tradition is) called Santa and the Christ Child that shows the correlation between the two men and their message. Taking Santa out of Christmas is just as bad as taking Christ out imho.

    The story of the real St. Nicholas is fascinating, and it should be taught to kids along with the story of Santa Clause. But, don’t take Santa out of Christmas. It’s just not right.

  2. Jeff
    November 28, 2006 at 1:59 am #

    Here’s a link to Amazon’s listing of Santa and the Christ Child.

  3. Connor
    November 28, 2006 at 8:24 am #

    Santa is a great thing for kids. If we teach them the virtues of giving, which is what Santa embodies, and not the virtues of receiving, which is what Christmas has become, then Christmas will be wholly Christian, which is what we desire.

    So you’re in favor of teaching about Christ by using fake, consumer-monopolized imagery? Why not teach about Christ by, uh, teaching about Christ? He gave quite a bit more than some non-existant fat guy in a red suit ever could.

    Taking Santa out of Christmas is just as bad as taking Christ out imho.

    That’s absurd! Christmas is Christmas, not Santamas. It’s like saying that you’d be breaking the sabbath equally as much if you took away football games than if you took away church.

    The story of the real St. Nicholas is fascinating, and it should be taught to kids along with the story of Santa Clause.

    Should? Why? There are many other “fascinating” stories of people, and “saints”, that could be taught during this season. Why him? Why not more emphasis on Christ during the season that bears His name? How many children actually get what the holiday season is all about? Is their focus on getting the latest video game console, or celebrating the birth and life of our Savior?

    But, don’t take Santa out of Christmas. It’s just not right.

    Please don’t take offense when I say that I find this statement downright silly. Why is it not right? Santa has nothing to do with Christmas – he’s a figure that marketing agencies have dressed up to idealize “giving”, while using him as a perfect way to increase sales and make consumers think that they have to buy their kids tons of presents during this season, rather than, say, donating money to a needy family, giving service at a soup kitchen, or doing something better with it that Christ would actually have us do. It’s not right? Sorry, but I completely disagree…

  4. Ben Crowder
    November 28, 2006 at 8:37 am #

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that in the end both the editorial and Connor agree that it’s okay to keep Santa in Christmas, provided that he’s presented as myth or legend and not truth. And I agree. There’s nothing wrong with talking about fictional characters, or learning valuable truths from them — and in fact I think we can get just as much virtue out of fictional stories as out of true ones — but it’s not a good idea to in effect lie to your children and tell them there really is a Santa Claus. Trust is too important to treat lightly. I think that’s more important than “keeping the dream alive” in the kids, or whatever you want to call it. Children are perfectly capable of enjoying stories as stories, and I don’t think they need to believe that Santa is real to feel the magic of Christmas morning.

  5. Ben Crowder
    November 28, 2006 at 8:41 am #

    Man, I wish there were a Gmail-like feature on blogs that would light up when you’re writing a comment and tell you someone’s posted a comment since you started writing yours. :) Two more thoughts. Well, three. First, I agree with Connor that Christ needs to be the center of Christmas, no matter what. Second, the commercialization of Santa is depressing. Third, I don’t necessarily think that Santa needs to be banned from Christmas, voted off the island if you will, as long as he doesn’t end up dominating the holiday. Meaning, it’s okay to include Santa as a minor mythological figure, but only in moderation. Which is admittedly hard to do. :)

  6. Naiah Earhart
    November 28, 2006 at 9:15 am #

    One of my fundamental principles as a parent is to be honest with my children–always. I never could wrap my head around the need to lie to them about Christmas. Christmas and lies are just antithetical to me. So, my kids have been raised without a belief in Santa.

    Katy, who turns eight in Mid-December, has always been raised to understand what Santa is, but to know that it’s really Mamma, or Daddy, or Gandma, or Grandpa. She’s also been told that most parents tell their children that Sants is real, and that she is to respect their decision to do that. To my knowledge, she has always honored that trust. Either last year or the year before, in a conversation about other kids and Santa, she actually thanked me for not lying to her and expressed that she was really sorry for the kids whose parents did.

    Bobbie,
    Who will turned three back in July surprised us all a few months ago at Costco, when they rolled out the first of the Christmas decorations. There was one of a little, mechanical Santa who climbed up and down a ladder, and as we walked past the decorations aisle, Bobbie kept saying “I want to watch that guy!” We woudl stop and watch the little “guy” go up and down once and then go on with our shopping. The second time we stopped by, I asked Bobbie “Who is that guy?” He actually said, “I don’t know.” We didn’t mean to raise him in complete ignorance of Santa, but given that most holiday marketing techniques drive me to stay home unless absolutely necessary, I guess he just hadn’t had the chance. Of course, being three, and much more socially aware, he knows that “that guy” is named Santa, but I don’t know if he knows much more than that. When the time comes, we’ll mention that “people like to pretend that he comes all around the world to bring everyone presents on Christmas…”

    I agree with the article that any sustained lie to the children is not just wrong in itself, but dangerous to the children’s sense of trust. I make it a point to parent by love and trust, and such a major violation of that would shoot my credibility in the foot.

  7. John Anderson
    November 28, 2006 at 9:58 am #

    At my house, “Santa” was just the fictional character my parents used in order to keep their gifts anonymous. I don’t think we ever really believed the guy was for real. He’s also a really good symbol for Christmastime: a loving father-type figure who watches all the children’s behavior and showers gifts on them when he can.

    “Hey! Who gave me this cool X and Y?!”

    “Hmm… Must have been Santa!”

  8. James
    November 28, 2006 at 1:37 pm #

    what about the tooth fairy and the easter bunny? how do you propose to kill them? Big Bird? Elmo? Kids don’t almost don’t know the difference between real and pretend when they’re young. I say teach your kids the true meaning of Christmas, but teach them that there’s coincidentally a nice jolly old man who likes to give kids gifts that night too. :)

  9. Connor
    November 28, 2006 at 1:40 pm #

    I think the main consensus, James, is that Santa (like all other fairy tale characters) be portrayed as a fictional person rather than a literal being who lives at the North Pole with elves and brings you your presents. Stories are fine, but they should never be presented as hard fact. If a child asks his father if Santa (or tooth fairy, easter bunny, etc.) is real, should the father lie? No! That moment would be a great opportunity to explain that such a story is “make believe” and nothing more.

  10. Mahuph
    November 28, 2006 at 1:59 pm #

    Connor writes: “Stories are fine, but they should never be presented as hard fact.”

    Amen! Add to your list Noah’s flood, Job, 6 day creation, Zelph…

    There is value in myth. We can appreciate them, we can learn from them. We don’t need to destroy them.

    My daughter recently posed the same question that is addressed in the editorial. Rather than a horrible, faith shattering experience, it turned into a great opportunity to talk about very important things. My answer to her: Santa can represent Christlike qualities to us, and especially to little ones – love, acceptance, hope, generosity. It’s a fun tradition, and having Santa makes it very concrete while young. As they grow older, and as my daughter was experiencing, the maturity brings a deeper appreciation for the good that Santa represents, and a better appreciation for adopting the Christlike qualities that Santa embodies.

  11. Kelly Winterton
    November 28, 2006 at 10:20 pm #

    As Latter-Day Saints, we have a much better knowledge of Christ’s birthday than do other religions. Through modern revelation, we know the date of Christ’s birth, which is April 6th on the Gregorian calendar, or Passover on the Hebrew calendar. It amazes me that we Latter-Day Saints never even mention this when the Passover rolls around. Christ is totally out of our thoughts when that sacred date is upon us. But, the world (Babylon) would have us “celebrate” His birth on December 25th. Satan is pleased with this. Satan is even more pleased that such a commercialized, cartoonized mockery of His birth takes place in the fashion we as Latter-Day Saints rationalize. The thinking of the 9-year olds is exactly as Satan would want – – “if Santa is fake, is then also Christ?”

    Over the years I have watched the Church fight with the foolish traditions of members at Christmastime. Years ago the First Presidency sent out a letter to Bishoprics (I was serving in a Bishopric at the time) that stated the policy of Santa Claus and Christmas trees and decorations in church houses. Santa Claus was NEVER to appear in the building. Any trees were not to be displayed in the chapel, nor in rooms near the chapel. (We interpreted this to mean the foyers.) No lights or decorations were to be displayed outside the building either.

    The tradition of our ward building at that time was to have a tree in each foyer, decorated by auxiliaries in the wards. The trees were donated every year by a family who owned and operated a Christmas tree farm. It became my responsibility that year to put an end to the long-standing tradition of decorated trees in each foyer. I dutifully called up the tree farm family, and informed them of the church directive.

    As a bishopric, we wondered about the lights around Temple Square in SLC. We observed that those lights were still continued, but the Christmas lights around the Tabernacle which stands immediately next to the Ogden Temple were for the first time absent that Christmas season. Those lights had been displayed every Christmas for as long as I can remember, but not now! Apparently some of the Temples were grandfathered in in their Christmas displays. The Mesa Arizona Temple comes to mind.

    But over the years, the directive of the First Presidency has gradually been forgotten about. New Bishoprics and Stake Presidencies were called. Some 10 or 12 years later, a tree suddenly appeared in our foyer. I wrote the Stake President a letter and hand-delivered it to him. I informed him that I did not know if Church policy had changed since, because I have no access to the General Handbook of Instruction. The following week, the tree was gone. I assume the Stake President had researched the policy, and found that our building was not conforming to Church standards in the display of the tree.

    Also after a dozen years, and a new Bishop, our ward Christmas party had a Santa Claus visitor, apparently sanctioned by the Bishop. I again wrote my letter to the Stake President, and the following year, it was announced that AFTER the closing prayer to the ward Christmas party, if the kids wanted to stick around, there MIGHT be a special guest in red. Sure enough, the Bishop had apparently thought Santa would be OK if it happened AFTER the closing prayer.

    I fight a hard battle to keep the commercialized trappings of Christmas trees, decorations and Santa Clauses out of our church buildings. The temptations and rationalizations of Babylon’s commercialized greed are ingrained within us Latter-Day Saints. I believe if keeping Santa Claus and Christmas trees out of our church buildings is good enough for the Church, it’s good enough for me in my own home.

    Trying to equate Santa Claus with Jesus Christ by any type of rationalization is pure foolishness on our part. I poor-pity the minds of children trying to make sense of the myth of Santa Claus and the birth of Jesus Christ on the same day. No wonder the author of the editorial had concerns.

  12. James Carroll
    November 29, 2006 at 10:19 pm #

    I responded to your post in my post: How to handle the “Santa issue”. Thanks for bringing up this issue!

    -James

  13. Bob
    December 1, 2006 at 12:48 am #

    you know, I don’t even think the Lord was born on the 25th of december come to think of it. And ya know what? We have the option to celebrate the life of Christ every day if we want to. Dang it, Christmas is just good ‘ole fun if you ask me. No sense in ruining a time of fun and family togetherness eh. Chew on that one for a while!!

  14. Bob
    December 1, 2006 at 12:52 am #

    Sorry, my post was in response to the above Kelly Winterton post.

  15. Kelly Winterton
    December 1, 2006 at 9:36 am #

    To Bob,

    Yep, you’re right. The Lord was not born on Dec. 25. And we do have the option to celebrate Christ every day if we want (excercising Free Agency). So let’s celebrate the life of Christ on those other days and party hardy on Dec. 25! (And I think I’ll buy that new snowmobile and give it to myself on Christmas Day too.) Oh, and while I’m at it, I think I’ll do some celebrating on the Sabbath Day too, because I can worship Christ on Monday, Tuesday, Wed……………

  16. Monte
    December 24, 2009 at 11:05 pm #

    Interesting post Conner. Even when you expose children to the truth, they want so badly to believe that Santa is real that they engage in self-deception. Every year I play Santa for the holidays for family, work, and ward parties. From the time my daughter was very young, she watched me put on my Santa suit and take it off. To reconcile her feelings, she would tell me, “Papa, you’re not the real Santa, right?” “Right Princess, I’m just a helper.” Want to find out what it’s like to be a celebrity with paparazzi and everything? Put on a Santa suit and try walking through the Joseph Smith Memorial without being mobbed by hundreds of kids. And you know what? Seeing the absolute job and delight on their faces is more than worth it. Destroy the myth of Santa in order to avoid telling that universal “white lie.” It’s a personal call, but I haven’t seen the decline of civilization occur as a result of the deception. Merry Christmas!

  17. Jeremy Nicoll
    December 25, 2009 at 1:05 am #

    Yet another example of how lying to people with good intentions leads to mistrust. Thanks for the post, Connor.

  18. Jasper Magee
    January 14, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    I guess I’m one of the few who really doesn’t have a problem with make-believe. Kids do it all the time, and I will often indulge them in such things and participate. I don’t feel betrayed by my parents. I don’t personally know any kid that stopped believing in Jesus when Santa got the boot. To me, it’s just a minor possibility or an anecdotal story and not worth worrying about.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Top of the Mountains » Blog Archive » The Santa myth - November 28, 2006

    […] Connor’s got a very interesting post on Santa (quoting from an editorial here): [The children] had been told by adults they trusted that Santa was real. They had seen Santa and talked to him. Santa was everywhere visible and talked about. And Santa delivered! If what they had been told about Santa was not true, then what could they believe? Who could they believe? This was a sobering day. […]

  2. How to handle the “Santa issue” « Ruminating Minutia - November 29, 2006

    […] In response to Connor Boyack’s post on whether or not parents should tell their children that Santa is real: […]

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