Dirty Little Secret


I’m pretty open about the fact that I’m an atheist, and that I was raised that way. I’m a little less open about the other lie that we don’t participate in….Santa.  To me, they are very similar.  Stories that bring lots of joy and comfort, but that are just that…stories.  Being an atheist seems somehow safer, culturally.  You can tell people that you can’t reconcile the pain in the world, the natural disasters and mass murderers, with an all powerful and all loving God, and people will respect your view, even if they do not agree with it.  But if you tell people that you are not raising your child with the myth of Santa Claus, somehow it makes you a Grinch of some sort.

Here’s the thing.  Childhood is not magical. Childhood is part of life.  It has its wonderful times, its sad times, and its painful times.  But there is truly no magic, no matter how much we want that to be true.  Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel…all magical stories.  All not true.  Childhood is perhaps a time when our logic hasn’t developed so much as when we are older, so we are more easily fooled into believing whatever we are told, but that doesn’t mean it is magical.

In fact, I think that telling children that there is a Santa, and that it is he who brings gifts, can be confusing and upsetting to them. I know this will be unpopular amongst my readers. I know that people will say that the belief is somehow important to keeping our children innocent, etc. But really, I think the opposite is true. There are far too many real life experiences where a child, especially a poor child, doesn’t get a gift. Or the gift that they do get is not at all what they wanted. Then they go to school, and their friend got not only exactly what they wanted, but also many other gifts as well. All provided by Santa. When I was a child, there was one year when we were so broke, so darned broke, that my mom took the money my Grandma had given her to buy us gifts, and spent it on rent and food. I know, the selfish horror of giving us a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs, and not somehow trying to convince us that there was a guy in a suit bringing us toys.  Whatever.  I would rather have food and a warm bed, and a mother who loved us completely and absolutely.  That was a horrible Christmas for her.  It was horrible for us, too, but not so much because we didn’t get gifts…it was hard because we saw how much it hurt HER that we didn’t get gifts.

I feel like arguing for Santa is like thanking God for sparing you from a disaster that has claimed someone else’s life.  How is it OK to say that God is good and kind for sparing you and your family, when your neighbor drowned in the flood? How is it OK to say that Santa brought you just the perfect shade of red bike for Christmas, when your neighbor got nothing?

This is why we raised Maya with no Santa. My experience, and also Ted’s…he was raised with Santa, and was truly devastated when he found out that Santa wasn’t real. There was no magic in it for him, no ‘beauty of keeping the magic alive’ for younger kids. Just a lie that made no sense and made him cry.

What if, instead of teaching our children that the magic of Christmas is that a guy in a red suit travels from the North Pole and leaves them gifts, we instead taught them that Christmas is the time of year when we all celebrate the love of family and friends, when we come together and express our love and try to be our very best selves.  What if the Christian amongst us talked about the joy of Christ and his birth, and the others amongst us celebrated the fact that the joy of that celebration can include all of us?  That the traditions that have merged from many cultures together into Christmas can be wonderful and inclusive?  What if we taught our children that the world we live in is indeed filled with wonder, love, beauty, generosity, kindness, devotion, and friendship, and none of it has to be tied to a lie to matter and be worthy?  All of these wonderful things can be found, intact, inside the human heart and soul?  That, to me, would be a far better lesson for our children.

This entry was posted in Culture.

8 thoughts on “Dirty Little Secret

  1. It’s interesting that I’d read your topic this morning as I woke up thinking about an aspect of the same thing. Not Santa but spiritually different beliefs. On Santa, we did tell our children there was as in left them gifts from Santa but when they asked, the first time they asked, we told them it was the spirit of this kind of selfless giving where one gives without needing credit or something back. It is a question though worth considering as a parent because you are right about the downside of any of this.

    What I woke up thinking about is this story I am putting together in my head before I write it down and where I know a lot of the plot, the characters, where it’s set, its history (Arizona historical romance), what it has as an added element is a spiritual element which always has me thinking harder than anything else I write. One of the secondary characters is a Yaqui, with their beliefs which can be very mystical. My heroine (who was in an earlier book I wrote) has a yen toward the mystical, wants those answers, and is into exploring what ‘might’ be. While I’ve been in Tucson, I’ve gone to some of my favorite petroglyph sites, which most likely some created them believing or trying to believe there was some mystical element, and some of the places that represent other kinds of beliefs like an old mission, but also some shrines that people created for various purposes. My question that I woke up thinking about, and plan to write a blog about for my writing blog, is how real do I make any of that. Once in awhile I have wrestled with that for a story as I am not traditionally religious but am more of an agnostic than an atheist. I just am not sure– although I don’t believe in a god who is a Santa Claus and in that I agree with you. Exactly though what is here is something I wonder about once in awhile before I decide I can’t really figure it out.

    I liked your blog this morning as it had a lot of wisdom in it. And whether it’s better than we believe in a little magic or handle things totally physically, that’s something I am not sure about. Religion I totally see as negative given where it goes, yet I raised my children with a religion but they said I also taught them to think which has led to one being mostly an atheist and the other a bit mystical but not into a religion there either. I do think about this once in awhile– not the least of it when I am about to write a story with some element of that– or not– in it.

  2. As usual, your post today makes me think. I wonder if the Santa Claus myth isn’t more for parents than it is for kids. Parents love the whole magical wonder thing, the preservation of innocence for their kids. It’s why many parents still use babytalk or babytalk words for things even after their child/children outgrow it. They love the Idea Of Childhood. Childhood is so idealized in our culture. Moreso in the last 30 years or so. It’s a big reason why, in my observation as a classroom teacher of teenagers, there has been a big lack of maturity in kids in their teen years as far as emotional and responsible development. (I also blame the Disneyfication of our popular culture, but that’s an entire other post!)

    Fortunately, my kids didn’t have a problem when they realized that Rick and I were Santa. They saw it as a maturing process, like they were being let in on a big secret. Like you, we explained it in terms of the spirit of giving, etc.

    The one person in the family who had a hard time with Santa was always Rick. When the boys were little, he hated that all the really cool presents had to come from Santa. He wanted the credit!

  3. Interesting post. While we did do the Santa thing, I can see your point. A different spin – we didn’t do the Easter bunny with our kids. As a Christian, I feel Easter is the most important event of the year. Adding a big bunny seems dumb and insulting. My 15 year old daughter & I do like to dye eggs but I look at that as a creative outlet.

  4. I’ve never given the Santa thing one thought before. Odd, isn’t it? But I can understand what you’re saying. There is a real disconnect btwn reality and fantasy– both for confused kids & for parents who idealize childhood. I think that Nance makes sense with her assessment of why Santa has become so big in our culture. Great topic, J.

  5. I want to know how you pulled off not doing Santa because we don’t want to and didn’t tell Elizabeth about him, but then there is TV, her friends, her friends parents, my parents (my mom actually wrote “From Santa” on gift tags.
    We weren’t sure what she was expecting as she seems to naturally get that the stories on TV are pretend/not real/make believe. I probed a little but mostly just waited.
    Sure enough, come Christmas morning she squealed “SANTA CAME!”

    Sigh

    • Cherry, it was hard at times. The family very much wanted us to do Santa, and felt that we were depriving her of the ‘magic’ of childhood without it. There were gifts from Santa, but thankfully they were never under our tree in our house.

      I think that if I were you, I would talk to her about it, at some non-exciting time when it’s not Christmas. Like maybe this week or next. Tell her all about the books that she reads and the stories she sees on TV, and how they are not real. She knows that already, as you said. Then tell her how Santa is a lovely story that some people actually believe is real, but you are letting her in on the secret that it’s just a fun story that people tell each other. Make sure you tell her it’s a SECRET, and that she shouldn’t tell other children, because different families have different beliefs.

      I remember the year that Maya and Autumn tried to convince Grant that there was no Santa. He wasn’t having any of it.

    • Also, there was a year when Maya VERY much wanted to believe in Santa. We said, “Has Santa EVER come to our house? Have you EVER had a gift under the tree from him? If you want, we can take back all of the gifts from us, and see what you get from Santa.” We play hardball, I guess. She said no, she’d rather get gifts from us than take the chance. I don’t know what we would have done if she had said she wanted to go for it. Maybe put them in the closet? It would have sucked for sure. We did tell her to please notice that the gifts she DID get from Santa all had her grandma’s handwriting…I don’t think she would have paid attention to that, but once we said it, she did.

  6. Danny and I Like the quote from the letter to Virginia from a veteran newsman Francis Church that appeared in the “Sun” 1897

    Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

    Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

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