Discussing the Polar Express, I felt compelled to republish this.
I mentioned in an earlier entry that we don’t do Santa at our house. I thought it would be worthwhile explaining why. My intent is not to cast a bah humbug over the day, but rather to provide one person’s view.
Initially, our intent behind not doing the Santa myth was two fold. The first was that we really wanted to focus on Christ, and things that the Church felt was important for us around the Nativity. Even more important was a concern we had that creating this make believe semi spiritual character and working hard to convince the children that he is real, only to have them ultimately learn otherwise, could have unintended consequences in other aspects of their spiritual lives.
It never ceases to amaze me the amount of trouble people go through to convince their children that Santa is real. From the simpler things, like leaving out a plate of cookies that are ultimately consumed, to the more elaborate of leaving footprints outside and people coming in the house dressed as Santa, it becomes of utmost importance to lead the children to believe in this make believe character. When the children ultimately learn otherwise, they can be heartbroken.
While I realize that not every child, maybe not even most, will be terribly bothered by the revelation, I propose that something much more serious could affect all of them. If mom and dad have been so dishonest over this never seen figure, how are children supposed to accept that they are being honest about God? Children will go through enough significant struggles as they grow older. Will they automatically turn to God and the Church for help, or will they think of God as merely some nice make believe character that their parents pretend exist in the interest of getting their children to behave?
I find it interesting that most Santa related movies that I’m aware of have to do with a loss of faith. People, who, for a variety of reasons don’t believe in Santa anymore. If you think I’m wrong that most Santa movies have that as a theme, name me one that doesn’t. Miracle on 34th Street, Polar Express, Elf, The Santa Clause, The Santa Clause 2 (where one character hates things Christmas because she was lied to about Santa), etc., all have loss of faith as a theme. I think the reason is that the film makers understand that it is the Santa myth that causes people to lose faith. All of these movies feel like a desperate cry for something to believe in. I remember an incident with one of our children when they asked a teacher if Santa Claus was real. When told that he was, there was confusion. Were mom and dad wrong? Worse, did their beloved teacher lie to them?
What’s interesting, I suppose, is that I find myself in interesting company. Googling on the whole notion of Santa Claus, I found an atheist website, and then this Op-Ed piece. An interesting quote appears part of the way through the article:
I’ve amassed recollections of “finding out the truth about Santa,” and many were stories of genuine embarrassment and resentment. The systematic deception makes children feel taken advantage of or like the butt of a joke.
If all of this isn’t a good enough reason, as we became Orthodox, it occurred to me that Santa represents a somewhat misguided theology. If Santa ultimately reflects a Christian world view, then in that world God punishes us if we’re bad and rewards us if we are good. On the one hand, a sort of Pelagianism, and on the other hand a Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God scenario. Neither is really consistent with Orthodox theology.
I think it would be far better for Santa to simply fade away. After all, he is mostly a marketing gimmick, if not created by Coke, exploited by them and most everyone else. Instead let’s spend December 6th learning about St. Nicholas, and celebrating him with Church services (<self serving> like this concert that was performed after our Pan-Orthodox St. Nicholas Vespers </self serving>). Let’s leave the feast of the Nativity for focus on Christ and his incarnation, and what that means to us. You can read some hymns that might be beneficial in that study.