My nine-year-old daughter Trinity loves play-dates. When she made friends with a girl in our neighborhood right before summer break, she asked to move in with her. Her plan was that she’d pack a bag and every so often check in back at home for clean clothes and spending money. Jesus take the wheel she’s already thinking like a college student. At least I don’t have worry about separation anxiety with that one. (You should know that this friend was all for the Trinity lives in my room plan. Apparently, they’re forming a girl band and need the extra practice time.) So, now if we can’t find Trinity in the apartment, we just go over and check her friend’s place.
Trinity loves play dates, but she’s also, shall we say, tragically candid. It’s either black or white.-she calls spades, spades; she has no time for foolishness and for the love of all that’s good and holy absolutely no filter. At all. Which is why last week after a play date at the neighbor’s house, I found out from the mom that Trinity committed the cardinal holiday sin—announcing that there is no Santa Claus. Well, I’m being diplomatic with her words, when I pressed her about what happened she told me she said that Santa is a red-suit wearing creeptastic stalker who doesn’t have anything better to do than watch children and make wooden toys. My daughter said this. To a room full of Santa loving children and a mom who, by her own admission, goes a little crazy at Christmas time. No wonder this friend was disturbed and appropriately frustrated. Santa is a big part of their Christmas celebration and in one brazen blow my daughter jeopardized their tradition. I apologized to the mom and sat Trinity down (again) to explain that all truth doesn’t need to be spoken, especially with such descriptive flair. “Mom, is it bad to believe in Santa Claus?” she asked after we agreed that if we want to keep these friends then we need to keep our opinions about Santa to ourselves. And I thought: Tread carefully, Osheta. Because I know Santa is a BIG DEAL to some families, even many Christian families. Visiting him at the mall is a time-honored family tradition; the terrified picture on his lap a rite of passage. I enjoy hearing about parents leaving Christmas Eve service early to nibble cookie edges and down hot cocoa just to see the excitement in their kids’ eyes when they realized, “SANTA CAME!” I loved the Santa character in “ Rise of the Guardians” and Tim Allen’s endearing CEO turned Kris Kringle. Santa, as a holiday tradition, isn’t terrible; He’s just not for us.
1: How we use our imaginations matter, especially when we’re young. At MOPS, we had a child development specialist talk about the importance of imagination for children between 3-7. She told us they work out conflict and their personalities begin to take form in pretend play-“magical thinking,” she called it. I see it in my kids, from my daughter’s Beanie Boo reality shows to my son’s reenactment of his favorite scenes from Harry Potter. They are taking cues from the world around them and letting that form their identity. What stories and what characters do I want in their imagination tool boxes?
Not Santa Claus. For one, Santa, with his metric of naughty or nice teaches my kids that their worthiness of gifts is directly tied to their performance. I want my children to be formed by the grace of God that says all are worthy, regardless of what they’ve done, because God loves everyone. 2: Santa doesn’t have relationships with my kids so it’s harder for them to connect the dots between love and generosity. My thirteen year old and I had a long talk over the weekend about Christmas gifts. He wanted several things that we felt like he needed to earn the money himself. We talked through his needs and interests and at the end of that meeting, I had a healthy list of doable gifts. We hugged, I made us hot cocoa, and later on he thanked me for listening to his Christmas list. He acknowledged that I was taking extra shifts at work to help buy these items and that he was grateful. I think when we rely on our kids’ Christmas lists to Santa as a primary means of learning what they would like for Christmas, we rob them of the personal connection of gift giving.
3: If Santa Clause isn’t for the poor child on Skid Row, the Ugandan orphan, or the Syrian Refugee, then Santa can’t be for my middle-class kids. It’s a privilege for my kids to believe in Santa. They are comfortable, well fed, safe, loved children with two working parents. Why wouldn’t they get extra gifts on Dec. 25th? There are children in poverty for whom the story of Santa is offensive. I understand where they’re coming from. As a child, I had Christmases where I didn’t receive a single thing because money was so tight. Where was Santa for me, then? Was I not nice enough? If I want to raise compassionate kids, I have to start with teaching them when they are young that justice wants for others what we already have. As they grow older, we talk about divesting ourselves of our excess to meet the needs of those around us. Santa and his impossible promise of gifts for all the children in the world, makes this a hard lesson to bring home.
4: It’s our job to teach our children to be good stewards of their faith We want our children to be shaped my Jesus. We read his parables, quote our favorite theologians and worship him in front of them. We are disciples of Jesus, but it’s difficult for our children to understand at times, because like Santa, they cannot see Jesus. He’s not sitting across the table from us, or watching TV with us, or helping us mediate conflict. Following Jesus requires faith. So does believing in Santa. Allowing my kids to invest any bit of faith in someone I know is not real and will at some point disappoint them, puts their faith in a very real, very loving Jesus in danger. After we went over these reasons, my daughter paused for a moment, then her face lit up when she said, “Yeah, we don’t do Santa but we do celebrate Saint Nicholas and I like that even better!”
It’s true even though we are not Catholic, every year we honor Saint Nicholas’ example of following Jesus with generosity. Come back tomorrow, and I’ll tell you why he’s a better alternative to Santa Claus. I’ll give you a few ways to celebrate him with just as much opportunity for whimsy and fun as Santa.
Shalom, and Santa Wariness, and Saint Nicholas Celebrating,