Rod Dreher asks his readers: “How do you handle the Santa question in your home?” He says:
I have friends on both sides of the issue. Some don’t even get started on the Santa Claus thing, because they don’t want to distract their children from the true religious nature of the holiday. I respect that, and admire it. We chose to take our chances with the Santa myth. Our thinking was that we’d rather deal with the temptation for our kids to take Santa more seriously than Christ rather than deprive them of the pleasure of believing in Santa. We work diligently to remind them of what Christmas is really about, and to tell them the story of St. Nicholas.
In the comments several readers raised the usual objections to the Santa Claus tradition. The one that I really don’t get is the “I don’t want to lie to my children” argument. But one reader links to a great article that refutes that groundless fear, Yes, Aquinas, There is a Santa Claus. I like it both because of the form, having slogged through my share of Aquinas during my undergraduate days, and because it quotes extensively from Tolkien. A couple of excerpts:
Objection 1: It would seem that the practice of the Santa Claus tradition is not permitted by the Christian faith, insofar as pretending to your children that Santa Claus enters your home in some supernatural way, and gives presents, involves lying to your children. Lying, or �to tell a falsehood in order to deceive� ( Summa Theologica [ ST], II-II, q110, a1), is contrary to God�s commandment �Do not lie� (Lev. 19:11). As Scripture says, God will �destroy all who speak falsehood� (Psalm 5:6), and the devil is �a liar and the father of lies� (John 8:44). Accordingly, the Catechism states that �by its very nature lying is to be condemned� ( Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2485).
Objection 2: Further, the consequence of lying to children about Santa Claus will be that children will lose trust in their parents when they discover the truth, and that they will become cynical and skeptical about the truly miraculous and supernatural.
Therefore, the practice of the Santa Claus tradition is not a lie for two related reasons: First, it constitutes imaginative action that conveys metaphysical truths; second, its intention is not deception, or to lead children into error, but to give them a deeper apprehension of the truth. This it does in three important ways: First, it provides an opportunity to teach children spiritual truths of the faith such as the Communion of Saints, the Church Triumphant, and so forth.
Second, it helps cultivate those imaginative powers in children upon which the depth and richness of human knowledge depend, such as a sense of mystery and wonder, and therefore makes them more receptive to the supernatural mysteries of the faith. Finally, it helps instill in them the moral lesson of selfless giving. Just as St. Nicholas of Myra (Santa Claus) gave gifts in secret, so too, may parents give gifts secretly to their children. Nor is it presumptuous to assume that St. Nicholas approves of this custom of giving secret gifts in his name.
As for me and my household, we will incorporate Santa into Bella’s experience of Christmas.
When I was growing up, we left milk and cookies for Santa and hung our stockings regularly on Christmas eve. On Christmas morning we opened a few presents left by the Jolly Old Elf and found our stockings stuffed with chocolate, nuts, and oranges. Our family exchanged presents with each other at Epiphany. When I discovered that my parents were helping Santa, I didn’t feel betrayed or lied to. I was a bit disappointed that I could not longer cling to the fairy story; but I’d already sort of guessed and I was grateful to them for giving me such a beautiful story to believe in. And glad I had younger siblings so that the tradition wouldn’t die out. In fact, we still get stockings on Christmas morning and a token gift of a dvd or other smallish trinket. This year will be the first year I don’t wake up on Christmas morning in my parents’ house and I’m rather going to miss it.
My roommate Meghan always celebrated St Nicholas Day with candy in her shoes. And during the years I lived with her, I got candy in my shoes too. I rather like the tradition and wouldn’t mind adding it to my holiday repetoire for Bella and other future Bettinelli babies.
And maybe I can steal a page from Tolkien’s Letters From Father Christmas while I’m borrowing holiday traditions. They are so charming.
Another commenter at Rod’s blog has this lovely reflection on the meaning of Santa Claus:
Sigh. Here it is again, the idea that having Santa (or even St. Nick) constitutes lying to your children.
In the great classic “Don Quixote de la Mancha,” Don Quixote lives in a world of his own imagining. But a funny thing happens when he encounters ‘normal’ people; they find themselves pretending to see and believe in the things he does; they must enter his world in order to communicate with him. In a way, I suppose, they are ‘lying’ to him by entering into his fairy tales. But if they stay in the mundane world, they can’t relate to him at all.
The world of a child is a mysterious and magical place. The blooming of a rose in the garden is an enchanted event beyond all understanding; the weekly arrival of the great noisy garbage truck is anticipated with the fear that it might not happen and the joyous dread that it will. When my oldest daughter, nearly a year old, was brought out of her crib late at night to see the lights on our Christmas tree for the first time, she whispered, “Wow,” an as-yet unknown richness in her tiny vocabulary. She said it a lot that first Christmas, as enchantments she’d never dreamed of appeared all around her.
We adults forget the fairy-tale lace that drapes childhood and screens it from so much of the ugliness in the world. It is our privilege at Christmas to attempt to add a little to the embroidery, with our Saint Nicholas and our hidden generosity. We’re clumsy at it, no doubt. We’re a little like the people in Don Quixote, pretending we see giants and ladies and noble squires instead of the mundane and everyday. But underneath it all, there’s a stirring at our hearts, and I think it’s then that I understand, a little, what Our Lord means when He says we have to be like little children to enter the kingdom of Heaven.