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.