Wednesday, March 5, 2008

11/15/06 - "Ho, ho, ho."

I am 90% sure that when I have children, I am not going to tell them the Santa Claus myth. Or at least, I'm not going to tell them that it is true. I'm willing to teach them about the cultural context of our Santa myth, and its beginnings and significance in other cultures, but I don't want to sully what should be a happy time in the family with a giant batch of lies, perpetuated over years and compounded as the child gets older and asks more questions. How do we teach our children to be truthful when, before they even acquire language skills, we push upon them this monumental lie? I'm sure I'll be wearing many hats when I become a parent, I just don't want "hypocrite" to be one of them.

I don't mind the Christmas season so much as I mind the lies. I like that everyone covers everything with twinkling lights. I like pumpkin pie, and pointsettias. I like gifts, and I like tree ornaments. I like the songs, including the religious ones. I just don't like prefacing all the good, nice things about the holiday with a big fat lie, and I'm willing to extend that to the nativity teachings, as well. I consider myself to "believe" in Jesus (as in, I think he existed, I think he taught people things, and I'm willing to accept the possibility that he was related to a higher power), but I do not believe that he was born on December 25th, nor do I believe that the "spirit of Christmas" has anything to do with his birth, or wise men, or mangers, or virgins. The "Christmas spirit," and many traditions, have to do with Saturnalia, and paganism, and being nice to people because the turn in weather brings a greater sense of responsibility for those in need (which is more like an evolution-instilled herd mentality than true charity). So, I don't know. While I'm certainly not a "Christmas-hater" in any way, I fully acknowledge that it has turned into a big ugly beast based on greed and missinformation. I fully intend to continue celebrating Christmas for the rest of my life, but I want to do it honestly and with fidelity to what I feel Christmas "means."

I understand that Santa can play a welcome role in people's Christmas celebrations, and I'm not saying that that is inherently bad. I enjoyed leaving out carrots for the reindeer, and my mom would take a big bite out of them so it looked like they had been eaten, which I thought was great. I just feel that personally, because honesty is so important to me, and an attribute that seems to be universally approved as appropriate to instill in children, one ought to lead by example. Developmentally, it is difficult to teach a child something if they can observe you acting otherwise. I don't want my message to be perceived as, "It's important to always tell the truth... except for sometimes, when it's more fun not to." I feel like this has greater ethical ramifications than the benefit that can be gained by adding "magic" to Christmas. We will still celebrate Christmas, we will still give gifts, but I don't feel that a brief belief in Santa is worth years of mixed messages."

A friend's response to the above information:
I am not a fan of Christmas in any way shape or form. However, if you did decide to be forward with your children on the myth of Santa (and I assume the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc), how would you instruct them to deal with their peers? Other children may treat your child as a pariah, or your child may disillusion the other kids prematurely - something other parents would not be very happy about.

Like I said originally, I want my children to know of the Santa myth and to understand it's cultural context (as well as other fairyland phantoms, like the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc.), but I feel that "social normalization" in these aspects is less important than the fundamental lesson of honesty. When they are school-aged and the issue of peers arises, I want them to understand that our family doesn't perpetuate these ideas, but it is okay that other families do - just as a Jewish child is not taught to believe in Santa, but is (presumably) also not taught that people who do believe in Santa are evil or stupid. While I understand the pariah argument, it seems faulty to me in that no one would reasonably expect a Jewish child to believe in Santa, or to be taught to believe in Santa so that he shares that commonality with his peers. Why is a non-religious objection to Santa viewed differently? It is my intention and hope that my children are able to understand what Santa is without having to "believe" in it - just as they should understand what a boogeyman is, or a centaur, or a heffalump. They will be taught to respect other children's right to believe in Santa just as they would be taught to respect other children's rights believe in anything else. They're allowed to believe it. That doesn't make it true. The difference between what is permissible and what is "true" (or "right" or "desirable" etc.) is one that I hope to drive home before enrollment into public schools, because I think it sets an important backdrop to interpersonal relations for the rest of their lives.And if another parent wants to get into an argument with me over my child telling their child that our family doesn't believe in Santa, then I'll be more than welcome to take them on. I think that's a scenario where I would have the upper hand.

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