Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Should you tell the kids the truth about Santa?

I've debated about this post for a while.  This just seems to be one of those sticky situations that Christians love to make a much bigger deal than it probably is in reality.

I remember being asked in third grade when I found out Santa wasn't real.  Call me naive, or whatever, but the question had never even occurred to me.  Was he real or not?  Huh?

I still wonder if it even matters to a child.  Is the fear of under-the-bed-monsters lessened because we have a conversation with our little ones explaining that they don't exist?  Is the excitement of finding easter eggs less because they know the Easter Bunny is fake?  Probably not.

Before I dive into what we're telling our kids, indulge me a bit with a preface:

NT Wright says that, "In a complicated, confused, and dangerous world, anything will serve as a guardrail for people blundering along in the dark.  We oversimplify complex problems.  We bundle up very different social and political issues into two packages, and with a sigh of relief--now at least we know who we are, where we stand!--we declare ourselves to be in favor of this package and against that one.  And we make life uncomfortable for anyone who wants to sit loose, to see things differently."

I believe that the way we approach Santa with our kids, and our fervor to figure it out, falls into this scheme.  Do we tell them Santa exists or not?  Will it lead to idolatry?  Will it stunt our kids imagination if we tell them the truth?  We cannot just say nothing!  We have to figure out what is the truly biblical and Christian thing to do!

Or we pass judgment -- You're not telling your kids that Santa isn't real?  Aren't you afraid they'll become little legalists, always wanting to do good so Santa will give them presents?

Pause and consider this: Does Santa Claus exist or not?

I'll wait.  Seriously, stop reading and think about it.  How would you answer?

If you have answered No, then you are a good rationalist.  And you are right.  Of course he doesn't exist in time and space.  There is no North Pole village with little elves running around in his workshop.  He makes no lists, nor does he check them twice.  And since he doesn't exist, of course he doesn't know if you've been naughty or nice.

If you have answered Yes, then you are a myth-believer.  And you are right too.  Of course he exists.

Wait, what?  He does?

Yeah, he really does.  This figure, whether he occupies actual space in actual time or not, has the power to control the actions of children -- No child wants Santa to bring them that infamous lump of coal.  Santa brings enormous joy and celebration every year on December 25th as children, through imagination or faith or belief or whatever you want to call it, jubilantly open gift after gift "from Santa."

He is a story.  And as a story, he has power and very real and true existence.

Imagine you are walking into your house.  Startlingly you hear a blood-curdling scream come from you neighbor's house.  "Don't hurt me!!"

What do you do?

Well, if you believe it is your duty and honor to care for you neighbor, you may call the police.

If it turns out the date is October 31st, you may reason the scream is a Halloween prank and brush it off.

Or if it's April 1st?

Or the scream just seems in line with the sort of joke your neighbors routinely pull?

You have choices to make, and a story to live in.  What actually happened, of course, is really and truly important.  But one story would be paramount.  You could not live with yourself if your neighbor was indeed being abused.  Of course you'll dial the police, you must.

So, what does this have to do with anything, and what do we tell our kids about Santa?

If you must, tell them that, yes, from one point of view Santa exists in a very real sense.  As does the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy for that matter.  They are powerful stories which lead to real life and cultural shaping realities.

Yet, again only if you must, tell them that, no, those mythical figures do not, in fact, exist.  Yet that hardly diminishes their power.

But them tell them the supreme story.  Answer the real questions behind their actual questions.

Tell them that we are all aching, deep in our core, to be awakened and found in a grand and great tale.  We want to know that we matter, that our life is about more than just dust and particles.  We all want deeply to believe in myth, where the good guys triumph and the bad guys are destroyed.

We want these things because we were created that way.

And, little child, because of this strong desire within us, sadly, we will not only believe loads of stories that just aren't true, we will give these stories power and authority over us.

Remember the Golden Calf?  Was it a real God that led them out of Egypt?  Of course not, but they believed it, and even violently celebrated its truth.

Does Santa exist or not, dear child?  It depends what you mean.

But you know what?  One person truly did exist in time and space, different from all others.  This is the person from whom we base our Calendar year.  Did you know that?

This person declared all our dreams and hopes were coming true!  Peace and mercy and love and joy were coming!  Pain and tears were to vanish!  He said our loving God was coming into His kingdom!

Joy to the World, we sing, the Lord has come!  Let earth receive her king!  Heaven and nature are singing!  Fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains are all in resounding praise.  Thorns no longer infest the ground.  The blessings of our King have come to us all!

This King has declared that you are completely forgiven and loved!  He longs to embrace you, to cherish you, to be with you, and to love you deeply.  He gives you all this for free!

Now, my little child, never mind the question of Santa's existence or not.  Which story would you want to live in?

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