Many of us here at Weber State University are parents, or at least married with not-so-distant plans of becoming parents. Even those who are nowhere near having kids probably consider the big parenting questions from time to time: “How will I discipline?” “How and when will I teach them about sex?” “What will I teach them about religion/spirituality?”
Of course, this time of year, those questions take a backseat to “should I encourage them to believe in Santa Claus?”
Last week, I attended L. Kay Gillespie’s near-infamous anti-Santa lecture for my SOC 1020 class. While I’m not quite as ruthlessly passionate on the subject as Gillespie, I agree with his central points: those celebrating Christmas for religious reasons should be keeping the focus where it belongs, and even those who view it as a purely secular holiday should consider how they might lose their children’s trust — or leave them wondering why, if Santa rewards goodness and doesn’t discriminate based on money, the kids next door got so much more than they did.
My husband and I have agreed that we, personally, will never do anything to actively encourage a belief in Santa in our future children. We are Christians, and believe that, if we want to teach our children about the spirit of giving, there is no better way to do that than to teach them what we think Christmas should really be about. I hope never to tell my children anything I know to be a lie.
I don’t judge those who like their children to believe in Santa, though. I personally think they might be putting the wrong focus on Christmas, but beyond that, I know plenty of people whose parents wanted them to believe, and they turned out fine. There is a point, however, at which I think some parents are taking it too far.
First, you shouldn’t let your children believe the myth beyond a certain age. I personally think even 8 is too old to seriously believe, but I know many disagree with me on that, and I guess it depends on the individual child’s maturity level anyway. If, however, your child is old enough that he or she knows about the birds and bees, yet still blindly believes in Santa . . . I’m sorry, but that is bordering on the seriously creepy. (And yes, I did have friends when I was younger who had sat through the maturation program in school and still insisted there was a Santa.) Not only that, but you’re letting your children make fools of themselves. Think how betrayed they’re going to feel when you finally tell them there’s no Santa AFTER they’ve passionately, tearfully defended the old man to a classroom full of sniggering peers. (Again, I’ve seen this happen.)
Second, you can’t get mad at other parents just for choosing not to let their children believe. We’ve all heard of kids smugly informing their believer friends that there is no Santa, only to have the believer’s parents call up the other kid’s parents to yell at them. Listen, it’s fine if you want your kids of a certain age to believe, but other parents are not obligated to tell their children what they may believe is a heartless lie just to enable you. Of course parents should firmly tell their children that it’s not their business to go around blabbing to kids whose parents have different stances, but they can’t supervise them every second. Parents whose kids come to them with questions about Santa can do damage control with their kids if they want, but don’t blame other people (no matter what obnoxious know-it-alls their kids may be) for the fact that you’re having the conversation you had to have at some point anyway.
The worst, though, is when parents actually punish their children for not believing in Santa. My mom knew a family whose kid came home saying his friend had told him there was no Santa and asking if that was true. Guess who got no Christmas presents that year? I’m sorry, but that is wrong. I knew another family whose policy was “The year you stop believing in Santa is the year we stop celebrating Christmas.” And this family was Christian. I have no problem with non-Christians celebrating Christmas — let’s be real, it doubles as a mainstream holiday at this point — but it shocks me that those claiming to be celebrating Christmas as Christians would place a belief in Santa (again, someone they know is not real) before a belief in Christianity. When you are actually withholding Christmas from your children just to punish them for suspecting the absolute truth, you need to take a serious look at your priorities.
Look, going along with the Santa thing can be harmless and fun. I have nothing against letting your children believe, so calm your wrath. At a certain point, though, we have to ask ourselves what is more important: our children’s faith in Santa, or our children’s faith in us.