It seems I still have things to say about the question of whether Christian parents ought to let their kids believe in Father Christmas.
Last time (To Santa or not to Santa?) I looked at the question of whether letting them believe in Santa really does any harm, and how my family subtly communicated Father Christmas’ unreality even before we’d tumbled to the secret. This time I’d like to examine some of the potential issues involved with deciding not to do the whole Santa thing.
One of the problems with not doing Santa Claus is that it creates a wall of separation between your kids and those whose families do participate in the Father Christmas thing.
The conversation among the kids at school goes something like this:
Javier: What do you want Santa to bring you this year?
Johnny: Santa isn’t real.
Javier: What? You’re lying. My Mom and Dad say he is, so there!
Johnny: No, he isn’t real. You’ve been lied to.
Both kids go away thinking the other one is a little weirdo. Johnny being in a distinct minority, he feels uncomfortable. Everyone else, it seems, is doing it. There’s a pressure to believe, or at least say he believes, in something he knows to be untrue. It creates a disconnect, a barrier. Other parents who are doing the whole Father Christmas thing get uncomfortable with your child’s determined evangelism on behalf of Santa-atheism. And before anyone says that kids aren’t going to be evangelising on behalf of unbelief in Santa, you haven’t met my eldest. Last year and the year before she was determinedly going around trying to “correct” her friends’ belief in the red-clad one.
Isn’t there enough pressure on our kids to believe things we as Christian parents are raising them to believe aren’t true? To conform? To do stuff or say stuff just because everyone else is doing it, in order to try and be popular?
Speaking as one who faced ridicule and teasing anyway as a child, and who never made friends very easily, I’m very glad I didn’t have this barrier to cope with as well.
What a lot of adults seem to forget is that very often, kids can be mean. Any difference can make you a target, and I’d just as soon not paint another target on my kids’ backs, particularly not such a visible one. If that means letting them believe in Father Christmas, so be it. In my mind the potential pitfalls are better than the alternative.
Second, I’m noticing that this current suspicion of Santa Claus among Christian parents seems to be growing apace with the idea of rehabilitating Halloween. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, it was Halloween that was the big no-no among Christians, and no right-thinking Christian parent would let their kid go out trick-or-treating.
These days, at least in America, every church has a trick-or-treat event, even if they don’t label it as Halloween, and yet Santa Claus lives under a growing cloud of suspicion.
The parallel nature of these phenomena makes me curious. Coincidence? Maybe. But I wonder whether it’s not evidence that the same old Christian isolationism is still at work, but with a different object.
It all seems very much in keeping with the “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” spirit that Paul wrote against in the book of Galatians. As if all of the kids who were forbidden from going out trick-or-treating are now grown up and fulfilling their childhood vows that “when I grow up, I’m not going to ban Halloween for my kids!”, but that the impulse to maintain the cultural walls between us as believers and the majority culture is still there unchecked.
I may be being unfair, but it’s too odd a coincidence to go unremarked.
I’m a little suspicious anyway of the isolationist tendencies of believers, particularly among the American church. The whole “secular public school is evil; you must home-school or you are abandoning your kids to atheism” meme. Christian radio stations. Christian TV channels. A Christian Yellow Pages (it’s called “the Shepherd’s Guide”, at least around here) containing a directory of Christian businesses so that you don’t even need to come face to face with an unbeliever when you buy food. You can pick up your Christian car from a Christian mechanic and drive it to a Christian restaurant where you can buy Christian chicken strips and Christian fries, before going to a Christian cinema to see a Christian film. All the while listening to one of the myriad Christian radio stations. The net effect is that it provides a safe, insulating cocoon in which a follower of Jesus can easily avoid the call to be salt and light.
And then we wonder why the world is getting darker. All the light came out of it, people!
Third, it makes believers look like they are opposed to the idea of kids being happy.
I’m not arguing that kids’ happiness should always be our primary driving force – our role as parents is to raise them into responsible and compassionate adults, not to always and only make them happy all the time. But we ought to resist the idea that Christianity is a joyless experience consisting in a long list of “Thou Shalt Not”s. This is not the heart of Christ. He came to set us free from the joyless expectations of keeping the Law.
Now, certainly a lot of parents seem to go too far. Their kids’ Christmas wish lists become demand lists and they seem to fall under the delusion that they must get everything on their child’s wish list or Little Chantelle won’t be happy.
What this is telling the child is that “you need stuff in order to make you happy”. “Your parents’ love for you is proportional to their willingness to bankrupt themselves in order to buy you that thing you saw once on an advert and that all your friends think is really cool, but which you’ll play with for about 5 minutes on Christmas Day”. It feeds into the consumerist drivel that money can buy happiness.
But none of this necessarily has to do with whether or not we present Father Christmas as real. You can drive yourself into debt for your child’s demand list without even mentioning Santa.
You don’t get to blame Father Christmas for that.
So I’m rather sceptical of this whole impulse to avoid Santa Claus. It seems to me like we’re just exchanging one set of potential problems for another.
It’s your conscience, and if this is where it’s heading it’s no real skin off my nose. But I am not with you on this.