Around this time of year the old "naughty and nice" list and the "Elf on the Shelf" get pulled out. Parents, at their wits' end the other eleven months of the year, rely on Santa's powers of persuasion to gain a few weeks of peace. Have you ever questioned if Santa is being used as a human substitute for a judgmental God, as the arbiter of "right and wrong" on Earth? Do you ever wonder why parents buy in wholeheartedly? Since the New Spirituality frees us from judgment by God, does this utilization of Santa as a mechanism of control continue to work to help our children attain their highest selves?
My own childhood experience of Santa was one of distant trepidation. My parents didn't really use Santa to elicit "good" behavior from us to the extent that others did, so I wasn't really afraid of him in the light of day. But every Christmas Eve, as I tried (and failed) to sleep, I shivered and shook in my bed in anticipation that this strange guy in a red suit would visit my house while we slept...and what if he looked at me in my bed? Wasn't that a violation of my privacy? These impressions and fears of him, as a sort of boogey man, were all my own interpretation from things I heard outside of my home. I wanted to be excited about Santa…but it just never worked for me. With such a love-fear dynamic between me and the jolly ole' fella – I was determined to prevent my daughter from having such an experience of fear. Don't get me wrong, I love the spirit of giving that Santa personifies and I wish for my daughter to see magic all around her in the world. I just hope she can experience magic without manipulation and fear…and without me having to lie to her.
Neale Donald Walsch has a beautiful children's book called Santa's God which describes Santa with magic and love, but no fear, and we share the messages of that sweet book with our daughter, often. But, early on, we also decided to allow her to guide and create her own concept of Santa based on her own feeling. We have not ever spoken of Santa as fact, and certainly not as a judge and/or jury to determine her worthiness for gifts. We have always told her that if Santa is to have a role in our life, he has to follow the rules of our house...even if they are different from what her friends think he is or does.
In our house, Santa cannot predicate gifts on behavior, he cannot visit any room other than the family room, and he is not allowed to "check up on her" because, well, even as an adult that concept still creeps me out! One of the difficult aspects of this has been working to teach her that Santa is a very personal concept which many people view differently. We have tried to demonstrate respect for other people's traditions by keeping our own ideas to ourselves because we do not wish to ruin other families' ideas and customs regarding Santa When she asks about the more impossible aspects of Santa, like how can he make it to all the houses, we say, "what do you think?" When she asks about how he knows we moved, we say, "Well Santa knows what mommy and daddy know." When she pointedly says, "Mom, this Santa guy's job seems impossible; I just don't think it can happen the way they say!" We encourage her to explore what that statement means to her and on the occasions that she has persisted, we answer that yes, we agree it seems impossible, always giving the reigns back to her so she can decide how far to go for herself. We had many friends and family argue that by "stealing" his power we would also steal his magic, but the opposite has been the case. What has resulted is that, while at times I can see in her eyes that she knows we are him, she has chosen to embrace the wonder and magic of Santa without the fear. At the end of last year, she all but told us she knew he wasn't real, and now this year she seems to believe again. She is truly guiding her own experience - even year to year.
Is this a path you would choose? Or do you wish to embrace the magic story of Santa? It is really a very personal choice. There is no right or wrong approach; only what works for the individual family.
Are we doing it "right" for her? Who knows? She may grow up to write an article that says "I wish my mom and dad had encouraged me to believe in Santa." But she may, on the other hand, say "Wow, my parents never lied to me about anything…except Santa." Each of our children's interpretation of our parenting decisions will be about the child's own perspective, faith in us, and their own understanding of how they create their individual realities.
You may be reading this article thinking to yourself, "This woman really thinks too much about little things! Let the kid be a kid!" Maybe I do; I have been accused of overthinking things before! But I wonder if maybe… just maybe…by allowing her to choose her own behavior, for the intrinsic value of being in line with who she really is, rather than for material gain we are actually allowing her to be herself. Could it be that by giving her freedom to question, we are assisting the development of her critical thinking process? And probably most important to my own conscience as a parent, by not using Santa as a mechanism of control, could we be affording her a life free of fear, free of manipulation, and free of trembling, shivering, shaking moments waiting to hear some stranger casing our house in the middle of the night? What do you think?
Originally printed on The Global Conversation Online Newspaper, (2012). All Rights Reserved.