Sunday, 1 December 2013

The Claus Controversy

Every Sunday in Advent, I will be posting up a Christmas-themed post. Here's number 1, let me know what you think!

Brace yourself, blog reader, I'm about to tell you something you may find surprising. Perhaps even shocking. I may even be inviting the world to run after me with pitchforks.

I'm Not Going To Tell My Daughter Santa Claus Is Real.

"WHAAAAT?" I imagine you all crying. "Why not? Why would you deprive your daughter of the magic of believing in Santa Claus? Surely it's what Christmas is all about for children?"

OK, maybe I'm being over-dramatic here. I am prone to hyperbole. But still, I expect that my decision would be considered unusual, to say the least, by most people. Santa, or Father Christmas if you prefer, is so ingrained in our culture now, surely belief in him is just a given for small children. How would Christmas even work without this belief? 

Well, I'm not too sure about the answer to that question, as last year Eleanor was far too young to understand (or care) about what was going on at Christmas time, other than the fact that there was a fascinating array of twinkling lights everywhere we went. But, while I can't tell you how Christmas works without believing in Santa, I can tell you some of the reasons why we've made this decision.

To be honest, the idea of being truthful about Santa may never have crossed my mind had it not been for a school friend who had been brought up not believing in him, as had her younger siblings. I remember thinking that it was a bit odd, but then her family seemed to retain the magic of Christmas so much better than those who did go along with the Santa myth. I suppose that's fairly obvious – make the magic of Christmas all about a mythical figure, and that magic will fade as soon as the child discovers the truth. I know that I became less enthusiastic about Christmas once I'd made The Big Discovery, and although I still enjoyed getting presents, eating lots of food and seeing family, the season lost it's sparkle for some years.

My decision may also be influenced by my experience of believing in Santa. As the youngest of three, I had two brothers who knew the truth and liked to wind me up. I remember one Christmas Eve we'd been out late and, coming home in the car, one of my brothers pointed at the sky and said something like, "Look, there's Father Christmas flying away, we weren't in bed so you won't get any presents now!" I was distraught. This probably wasn't the only time they pulled my leg about Santa, but it's the most memorable.

I also remember The Big Discovery – unable to sleep with excitement, I heard my bedroom door open and laid perfectly still. And saw Mum come in and deposit my presents. She tried to cover it up, bless her, getting a work colleague to write a letter 'from Santa' explaining that he sometimes leaves the presents with parents to distribute, but I recognised the handwriting and I wasn't fooled. I remember feeling deeply disappointed and sad. Not angry, just sad. Obviously I can't shield Eleanor from ever getting wound up, or from being disappointed or sad, but at least I can avoid creating situations which will probably end up with those feelings.

Linked to this is my very strong belief that we are role models for our children – what they see us do, they will emulate. If I lie about something, and continue that lie year on year, how can I teach Eleanor that lying is wrong? How can I tell her not to tell tall tales, if I myself pass something off as true when I know it's not? Some parents may feel this is an exception to the rule, that if you're truthful most of the time something like this can slide. Maybe they're right. But I can't square the idea of lying to my daughter then telling her lying is bad in my conscience.

Then comes my overriding reason. I mentioned before that The Big Discovery meant that Christmas lost it's sparkle for some years. The 'some years' bit is important here. Because shortly before I turned 16 I became a Christian, and from then on, Christmas had a new magic. I won't go into a big preach here about my beliefs, but for me, celebrating the birth of Jesus is what is truly magical about the season. I remember going to Midnight Mass by candlelight not long after I became a Christian, and finding the whole experience so awe-inspiring, it blew the 'magic' I'd felt as a child right out of the water. I look around now and I feel that Santa has usurped Jesus as the main emblem of Christmas, and I want Eleanor to know the real reason we celebrate.

Many times over the years I've heard belief in God compared to belief in Santa, and I imagine some people may see my decision to teach my daughter that God is real but Santa isn't is a bit hypocritical. But there is an important difference. I genuinely believe in God. On the contrast, every adult knows that Santa isn't real. In teaching Eleanor about God, I am passing on what I wholeheartedly believe to be true; if I were to teach her Santa is real, I would be passing on what I know to be a lie. If I did that, would she still trust that I do genuinely believe in God? (Before anyone says it, if she grew up not believing in God, then I would accept that. But it would still be important to me that she knew my belief is genuine, if only to encourage her to be respectful towards others' beliefs.)

So that's why I'm not going to tell Eleanor that Santa is real. I will tell her the legend and say that some families like to pretend that it's real, and we will still have stockings, but that tradition will be preserved in the spirit of playfulness – "hang up your stocking, and Mummy and Daddy will play Santa overnight and leave some treats in it for you!" I don't know how it will work out in reality, and I imagine it may be tricky, but I'm not one for compromising my views for the sake of an easy life.

If anyone reading this has also chosen to be honest about the Santa legend, please do leave a comment, I'd love to know how it works for your family!


4 comments:

  1. I love, love, love this post. I love how honest you are and how carefully you've considered your approach with your daughter from both a parenting and a faith perspective. "But it would still be important to me that she knew my belief is genuine, if only to encourage her to be respectful towards others' beliefs" << This isn't something I'd thought about before but it makes so much sense to me. I've been so surprised hearing people talk about how sad they were when their children stopped believing in Santa Claus. I just have no personal experience of that. We never believed. For us, it was always a game.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I like the idea of keeping it as a game - I was genuinely sad when I found out the truth and it seems such a shame that something that ought to bring a lot of fun into children's lives often ends up as something that spoils Christmas for them.

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  2. We're atheists but other than that our reasoning is quite similar - we don't actively lie to our children and we are trying to teach them to use logic and reason.

    It hasn't been 100% successful to be honest! I think we've been a bit wishy washy so we haven't come outright and said he doesn't exist - I've just said I don't believe, pretty much how we handled the sudden belief in god! Our oldest is about to turn 8 and he full on believes - but I think that's because he wants to believe. It has lead to some interesting discussions - because I'm not trying to continue his belief I can really question him!

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    1. That's interesting - I think my 4 year old wants to believe too, even though I've said it's just pretend. I suppose that's the best of both worlds - we don't have to lie they don't feel left out!

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