Ostensibly, Christmas celebrates the birthday of Jesus. However, for many Christmas is less a religious holiday, but more a cultural tradition, practiced by people of all faiths, centered on the myth of Santa Claus.
The practice of Christmas is primarily as a time for gift giving, particularly to children, to whom we give in the name of Santa Claus. Santa is an all-knowing, extremely powerful man, who lives at the North Pole, and with the help of his elves makes toys for children. Once a year, at Christmas, Santa distributes these toys to children based on an evaluation of them over the past year. If they have been “good”, they will receive many (potentially expensive) gifts. If they have been “bad”, they may get nothing, or perhaps a lump of coal (this actually does happen).
Originally, Santa Claus was modeled after St. Nicholas, a Christian saint who was known for giving and helping anonymously. However, the idea of giving anonymously out of charity was altered, and became a contract; where if your child is “good” (meaning they do as you or other adults say without question, and do not cry about it), they will get plenty of gifts, and if they do not, they will get little, or poor gifts. The current myth is enshrined in the song: “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”, by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie.
A minor issue, not my biggest concern here, is that I generally dislike lying to children. The problem with lying to your child, even with the best of intentions, is the potential for later mistrust, given the evidence that you have deceived them at least once.
No, the biggest concern is what this myth actually teaches our children.
Because our children trust us, they believe that there is this being, Santa, who exists as I have described him above. Notice, that because of Santa’s godlike powers, children naturally understand that Santa is God, or at least is acting on behalf of God. (I can remember being confused on this point as a child.) This belief is reinforced by association with the birth of Jesus, who is considered by many to be an incarnation, embodiment, or messenger of God, and legends such as the Three Wise Men.
Summarizing the above discussion, we are teaching our children the following:
Goodness or being pleasing to God (Santa), means being docile and subservient to authority, and not expressing your feelings when hurt. In return for being pleasing to Him in these ways, you receive material wealth (gifts).
The problem with teaching children that God wants us to be docile and subservient, is that sometimes in life it is important to stand up for yourself or others, even against authority, and this instills the programming or conditioning that to do so is “bad” and displeasing to God.
The problem with teaching children God wants us not to express our feelings when we are hurt, is that if we do not express our feelings to others, they cannot know they have hurt us; and so they will likely continue to hurt us.
The problem with teaching that goodness leads to material wealth, is it leads to the belief that wealthy people are favored by God, and therefore must be good. Which then leads to the belief that God dislikes poor people (otherwise they would be wealthy), and so they must be “bad”.
Of course, as we get older we find clear evidence to the contrary: We observe murderers and sociopaths who are wealthy and powerful; and loving, kind people who are poor. Nevertheless, this early teaching and conditioning lingers; in a vague unease that unless we are or become wealthy, we have offended God, or done something wrong.
As a result, we struggle to obtain wealth, even to the point of neglecting things we know in our hearts are more important: like making time for, and being kind and patient to our children, loved ones, and others. We even push others to make the same choice, because we believe we are pleasing God by continually striving for wealth. Such is the fruit of the Santa Claus myth, and its echoes throughout our materialistic society.
So, as parents what are we to do? The Santa myth is powerful, in some ways universal, but it can and I believe it should be altered to provide a healthier message for our children:
Do not teach our children that Santa will bring more or better gifts if they are “good”. They will get gifts either way, because Santa (God) loves them. Just the way they are.
This simple, seemingly small change in the Santa myth will make all the difference. In other words, avoid making Santa a judge.
Here is an example of how a judging Santa can cause suffering (even perhaps with good intentions): Click Here
On the other hand, here is Santa showing the power of acceptance (even if the story may not be true): Click Here
Most importantly, understand this:
You, Mom or Dad, are your child’s original model or image of God. To your child, you are godlike in power, even greater than Santa. In the end, your child will understand that Santa is you. Be a good Santa, a good parent, a good God; and let them feel accepted, appreciated, and loved as they are. Not only at Christmas, but all the time.
If you do, that message will become part of them. They will feel secure, confident, and loved, the rest of their lives – no matter what their material circumstances. Let this be your most precious, lasting gift!
Unfortunately, the Judge within us is an extremely powerful, entrenched part of our mental and emotional makeup. Learning to control it is exceedingly difficult. To do so, consider learning more about Transformative Parenting® and putting what you learn into practice.
It is important!
This is a well thought out article and does a great job of explaining the consequences of believing in myths. You did a great job of providing an alternative.