Somehow I thought that the first time cereal was flung across the kitchen it would be flung by Isabella, not me. But today as I was putting her cereal in the microwave the bowl went flying and cereal splatted on the wall, the drawers, Bella’s rocking seat, and the floor. Only the first of many clean-ups, I am sure.
There are as many ways to celebrate St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, and Christmas tide (and Epiphany) gift-giving as there are families that partake in these grand and glorious traditions. All I’m asking is that we leave off swiping at other people’s beloved traditions or lack thereof. Criticize consumerism, criticise materialism, criticize seculariasm, I’m with you all the way. But don’t criticize Santa or blame him for all those evils. Because I’m living proof that you can celebrate Christmas with Santa without any of those ill effects tarnishing your understanding of the true meaning of Christmas.
I say, Amen to that. By the same token though, I’d also say that no one should criticize parents who choose NOT to do the Santa thing or tell them their children will lack fantasy or wonder, etc. It really is simply a matter of family preferences and I see no reason why everyone can’t simply respect everyone else’s choice on the matter.
I’ve been holding back from responding to your last comment because I sensed that both of us were heated up to the point where things that were not intended to be accusatory were sounding so.
What is it about being a parent that makes it so easy for us to go on the defensive? To perceive criticism whenever we hear about someone else’s parenting decisions that differ from ours?
Your first response, quite frankly shocked me. It was so upset and defensive. I never meant to attack anyone. I was simply stating my interpretation of statements made by third parties.
But I’m not saying you’re the only one who jumped to the defensive. I did it too. When I read Rod’s blog and saw all these parents rejecting Santa, saying that they didn’t want to lie to their children…. well that seems to be implying that those of us who tell our children that Santa is real are liars. And I don’t think we are.
Again, let me make this perfectly clear, I never meant to imply that all parents who choose not to have Santa in their homes are depriving their children of fantasy. Rather, I would say that it seems to me that the argument that I most commonly hear against Santa, that it is telling your children a lie, can be used against almost any kind of fantasy or wonder. And that many people do use it in that way. Please, stop taking personal offence at something that was not meant as a criticism of you or your choices. I was commenting on what I perceive as a cultural phenomenon, a general trend, that saddens me because I think one of the root sicknesses of the modern world is the lack of understanding of fantasy and wonder.
Again, I never intended a criticism of anyone else’s parenting decisions. All I wanted to do was show how Santa is not incompatible with a Catholic family life, with good parenting values. And most especially to point out the difference between lying and fantasy.
I still think we disagree on the boundaries of fantasy. I don’t think most children have as clear a boundary between “let’s pretend” and “make believe” and truly believing as you imply with your tea party example.
I would be interested at some future point of exploring the topic of the role of fantasy and imaginative play in children’s lives. You seem to imply that make believe is unacceptable unless a child knows it’s make believe. In my experience that is not how I and many of my friends functioned. I relished adults who “made believe” without “ruining the game” by admitting that it was a game. For example, when I was in kindergarten we read the Gingerbread Man and baked our own cookies. When the teacher went to fetch the cookied from the school kitchen, she told us they’d all run away. We followed the trail and eventually found them locked in a safe in the principle’s office. My gingerbread man had a broken leg, hurt in his mad run across the school.
If some well-meaning adult had tried to stop that teacher from “lying” to us about the fate of our cookies, it would have deprived me of a wonderful fantasy.
Evidently, though, you would disagree:
“There is a difference between encouraging a child to enjoy a fantasy they know to be a fantasy and telling them a fantasy is reality.” See, for me we have a fundamental disagreement in our understandings of fantasy. When I was a child, if I had been told that fantasy was just a game and not reality, it would have broken my heart. I wanted, deeply, desperately to believe in fairies and Santa and toys that became real (like the Velveteen rabbit). Any adult who told me my beloved beliefs were just make-believe would have won my undying hatred.
And I think that kind of fantasy life is normal and healthy. I outgrew some of my beliefs, Santa and such ,at the appropriate time. No one ever told me Santa wasn’t real. That might have been traumatic. Instead, I discovered it for myself, gradually. When I was ready to let go of that belief.
Others of my beliefs I still cling to: God and Jesus and that story that Tolkien called the greatest fairy tale ever, the one story that we most want to be true and that really is true, that God became man and dwelt among us and died for us that we might live with him forever in that fairy land called heaven.
I understand your point that your experience with Santa Claus was negative. But I still tend to think (admittedly from only anecdotal evidence) that it is the exception rather than the rule. (and I wonder sometimes when people are angry at finding Santa isn’t real it is was precisely because they were made to give up a belief before they were ready to let it go.)
I don’t think that most children will feel angry or lied to when they realize that what they believed was real was let’s pretend. Many children drift slowly over that boundary between fantasy and reality over a period of time and do not find it an abrupt transition. (And I think that a parent can find ways of mediating that transition so that it is not the kind of painful shock that you describe.)
And some of us still dwell in the gray areas in between fantasy and reality. Just look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas. He was an adult who lived with one foot firmly planted in the land of fantasy. To the point that he had his and his wife’s tombstones inscribed with the names of his fictional characters.
I don’t, honestly, understand the hostility to Santa Claus shown by so many people, so many good Catholics, and I’m trying to do so. I suspect a huge part of it for some people is precisely in a misunderstanding of the nature of children’s fantasy play. Obviously it is if people can have such widely diverging views as we do about the nature of such play.
I know that in our culture there is a great distrust of myth, of fantasy, of belief. And many Christians I’ve come across perceive any kind of fantasy that is not explicitly Christian as somehow inimical to Christian faith.
I just want to point out that the roots of the Santa Claus custom are deeply Catholic. And that there is not an inherent incompatibility between Santa and a faithful, orthodox celebration of Chistmas.
Whether individual parents choose to make Santa a part of their family tradition is, as I’ve always said, a matter of personal preference. However, I also would like to plead with such individuals to withold statements that sound like judgments against those of us who do choose to make Santa a part of our household tradition. W aren’t lying to our children or selling out to the secular culture. We are living a tradition that has deep Catholic roots. One that, I believe, if done well, rather than detracting from children’s faith in Christ and understanding of the meaning of Christmas can, in fact, enhance it.
Sorry this is a long ramble. I’m trying to pull out for the first time things that I’ve always felt so deeply I just thought they were the way things are (the Common Room had a really good post today on assuming something is common knowledge, that seems appropos to this point.)
I hope I’ve made it clear that I meant no criticism and deeply regret that you ever felt criticized or attacked.
I hope we can continue to have an amicable discussion and tease out our different views of fantsy and wonder. It is a fascinating subject and I hope we can explore it further without any further ill will or rancour.
I think, at least in this case, parents can become defensive because we all want what is best for our children and it is only natural for all of us to want to defend the choices we make for them.
I also would be interested, in the future, in further exploring the role of fantasy as well as its different types in the life of a child. But I would still have to consider when fantasy was appropriate and when it wasn’t and what standards would be used in determining when it was and was not appropriate.
Perhaps you are right in that I did not give up my belief in Santa on my own and thereby know my Santa experience to be very different than yours. Perhaps I am the exception. But then I have to ask, what of those like me, the exceptions? Where does the Santa myth leave us? I do not doubt that Santa CAN be done in a way that is happy, holy and healthy, but for those who were not given to them in that way, in the only way we knew him and grew up with him, where does that leave us? This is my daughter’s first Christmas and even if I wanted to try to find a happy, holy and healthy way to do Santa, since I did not experience one, I cannot play trial and error with her trying to find it and figure it out. I just can’t risk her having an experience like I did simply in the hope I can find a better way to do Santa while risking my own distraction with him (since I only know him one way) at the same time.
As far as the hostility to Santa, I think it can come from a few sources. Certainly one would be a negative personal experience with Santa. But another could simply be a reaction against Society’s abuse of him.
I don’t distrust fantasy nor demand that all fantasy be explicitly Christian, but I do demand that any fantasy not be anti-Christian or distract from a Christ-centered way of living. I mean, I enjoy Veggietales as much as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast but it would be a real problem if I never went to Church because I kept watching cartoons all Sunday. I think some people’s reactions to Santa are like that – they either themselves had at some point or have seen others watching cartoons – even wholesome cartoons like Veggietales – on Sunday instead of going to Church. They have seen themselves or others regarding Santa in a way that not only does not direct them toward God, but even directs them away. Hence they react against Santa. I don’t think that by any means means that all people have such experiences with Santa, as you have not, but, in the end, if certain people have had such a difficulty with Santa it is really to their credit to remove it as any obstacle between them and God. Could they instead turn Santa into a good directive towards God? Possibly – it depends on the person and situation. (this paragraph is not because you said the opposite but you said you don’t understand the hostility to Santa and I was just expoloring a possibility.)
I understand and agree the roots of Santa are Catholic. Yesterday, for the first time, we celebrated St. Nicholas’ Feast Day only, since we are not doing Santa, we used the stockings with our names on them instead of shoes (my daughter likes shoelaces too much anyway). I think it will turn into a very nice tradition for us over the years and as our family grows. My daughter has no idea why she got crayons or how to open the box yet (thank Heaven) but she will be glad of them in a few months.
Melanie, with all my heart, I don’t believe you are selling out to secular culture nor maliciously lying to your daughter. I think, given all the Santa talk on the web and elsewhere this time of year, by Catholics and non-Catholics, it is quite easy for all of us to feel attacked and criticized and hence get offended and defensive. I know my parents have already told me they disagree with my husband’s and my decision on Santa and, even though I’ve put two posts on my website explaining my personal reasons on the subject for the purposes of our family, I will probably be spoken to about it more than once.
It is unfortunate how the devil is ever at work causing pain and disagreement even when none need exist. My apologies if I attacked you or you felt I in any way criticized your choice for your daughter.
I certainly think a discussion on fantasy and wonder would be very interesting. Can you think of any good sources on the subject? Having been a philosophy and theology major I can see what I can find on it (which probably means I’ll pester my husband since he studied theology and is still studying the same…heeheehee). Do you know any good literary commentary on the subject? I suppose pyschological would be helpful as well though I can’t say it is an area I am overly familiar with – I just know Freud scares me.
In any case, I hope you, Dom and Bella all have a very Blessed Advent and a most Merry Christmas and I hope Bella gets to enjoy any cookies for which Santa may not have room. God Bless.
I’m getting a very interesting education in all things Claus. Evidently I opened a much greater can of worms than I knew. But I’m enjoying it. Contraversy, having your ideas tested, leads you down so many interesting paths you’d never otherwise have followed. I’m learning so much about my own beliefs and about all the different ways people celebrate Christmas. I think I should do a post just of links to all the various blogs I’ve seen discuss the Santa issue.
In my comment on another thread (this conversation is a bit out of hand since it’s spread over four posts on my blog) I mentioned reading a story about another family who gave up on Santa after one of their children had a bad reaction. I have to admit that for me this is a new phenomenon. But it appears to be more common that I knew.
My hunch is that in general people have a bad reaction to “finding out about Santa” for one of several reasons: either they were told too soon and weren’t ready to let go of the fantasy, or they were mocked for believing in Santa Claus, or else their experience of Santa was very materialistic and they want to move away from that. Or possibly they have turned away from celebration of Christmas altogther, but that’s a whole other ball of wax.
Your question is a good one: what do you do if your experience of Santa was negative? I can see two possibilities: either you don’t do it at all, or you could look at what other people do and follow their examples. I suppose that having a negative emotional reaction youself would make this less attractive.
I did see one commenter on Father Fox’s blog express surprise at a priest believing in Santa. It was a revelation to them that one could do so and still turn out ok.
I’ve just remembered the Harry Potter posts. I guess this is rather similar. Ultimately, as parents we have to just do our best and pray that it’s good enough. Trust God to do the rest.
One reason I love the internet, though, is that it opens windows onto so many households. In just this one year I’ve collected so many ideas about how to celebrate the liturgical year, including Christmas and Advent. Even if it’s stuff I’d never do, I’m fascinated by seeing what other people do. And often I’m inspired. I start thinking how I might incorporate all or part of someone else’s ideas in my own celebrations.
In part that might be something I inherited from my parents. Like I said before, we celebrated Epiphany when I was growing up. It was not something either of them had done as a child. It was new. And we were the only family I knew who did it. So I can relate to both Katherine and Kate’s experiences of being counter-cultural.
I loved it. And yet I will admit that it was sometimes hard when we came back from Christmas break and all the other kids asked: what did you get for Christmas. Because it usually wasn’t much. We usually hadn’t had Epiphany yet, which is when we exchanged our family gifts.
That’s another thing you have to balance as a parent. It can be difficult for kids to feel different. How are you going to address those questions? And, like you said, how are you going to negotiate with your own parents when your choices are different from theirs? I’m already experiencing that a bit as we are beginning to talk about our decision to home school with our families. Parenting would be so much easier if there weren’t so many choices involved!
Good luck with figuring out what you want to do with your daughter. I like the tradition of celebrating St Nicholas on the 6th, even though I wasn’t raised with it and am still trying to figure out how I want to incorporate it for Bella. I thought about putting stuff in her shoes, but she won’t remember and wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway. Maybe next year.
This year we actually aren’t doing much for Christmas. Finances are tight and we aren’t going to give each other gifts. Bella is too young to know any different anyway. (though I did just get a great Christmas book for free from Book Mooch, maybe I’ll wrap it up for her and take pictures of her playing with the paper on Christmas morning.) She will doubtless get gifts from our extended families, anyway. I doubt we could stop the doting grandparents even if we wanted to! I haven’t even managed to unearth our advent wreath yet.
We’ll spend Christmas Day at Dom’s brother’s house with all his siblings and their families and then we will be going to Texas to spend Epiphany with my parents and siblings. And for me going to mass and celebrating the birth of Christ our King and spending time with family are really what’s important anyway.
As far as a discussion of fantasy, it’s something I’ve been trying to formulate for years from a purely literary perspective. A discussion with someone coming at it from a non-literary perspective might really help me get some things into focus and at the same time broaden my area of inquiry.
Rather than continuing here, I’m going to start a new thread, collecting a list of titles and links and giving the discussion a place to start. I’ll finsh my response to that part of your remarks there.
Thank you again for your kind wishes for me and my family. And I repeat them for you and yours. May the advent season be a fruitful journey for you, leading to a blessed Christmas. May your family be filled with the love and peace of Christ. I’m afraid poor Bella won’t be getting any cookies. (I’m notletting her have sugar until I absolutely have to; but that’s a whole other topic!) I’ll eat them for her and she won’t know the difference. But she will love being with her family, being spoiled by her grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. Lucky girl.
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