Family History Feed

Santa’s Kids

Scared of Santa My earliest recollection of associating white people with supernatural powers did not originate with images of Jesus or other biblical heroes.

Like many of the kids I grew up with, I first learned about the existence of a super-powerful caucasian during the Christmas holiday season.

The Yule Tide celebration marked the time of year when an all-seeing, all-knowing deity would reward the “good” with gifts, and give the “bad” their just due. His image and likeness was represented as a kindly white grandfather who reigned from a magic village at the top of the Earth.

According to adults, he was truly amazing. He could appear in several different stores at the same time, and could be counted on to remember the names of every child that sat on his lap, or wrote him letters, as well as what they wanted for Christmas. He knew when everybody was asleep, when they were awake, what they were doing, and he had the power to visit every home in the world in a single night!

When children misbehaved, parents invoked his name to remind them of his ability to monitor their every move.

The proposition for young children who wanted to cash in on their gift lists was enticing: believe in him, be good, and receive the gifts you want.

If a child had doubts about the truthfulness of these teachings, the story became overwhelmingly convincing on Christmas morning when toys and gifts that weren’t there the night before, magically appeared beneath the Christmas tree.

And so, like many other Americans similarly indoctrinated, I became a true believer in the “god of Christmas,” the first supernatural being I trusted to fulfill my wishes.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t our Heavenly Father, or His Son Jesus, that I first placed my faith in. It was Santa Claus.

Some might argue that this is a harsh description of the ritualized story of Santa Claus and Christmas. They say it is merely a fable, a fantasy to nourish the imaginations of children.

But is this true? Is the legend of Santa Claus a harmless pastime for children?

A fable is most commonly defined as a story that ends with a lesson or moral instruction. The Hare and the Tortoise, for instance, teaches about the dangers of over-confidence, and the importance of staying focused. In The Ant and the Grasshopper, we learn about the value of hard work, and the folly of laziness. The Boy Who Cried Wolf offers a powerful lesson about personal credibility.

The most appealing attribute of a fable, however, is that it can provide insight that will help children of varying economic backgrounds gain a better understanding of life in the real world.

But can the same be said for the legend of Santa Claus? What lesson is there to be learned by the “good” child of poor parents who receives little or nothing for Christmas, or the “bad” child of wealthy parents who gets everything he wanted? This common scenario fails to deliver a meaningful message about positive behavior and self worth to both the rich child and the poor child.

But, enough about what the Santa Claus story fails to accomplish in modern society. Let us, instead, examine the manner in which this so-called harmless fable could possibly affect the developing mind and spirituality of a young child.

One of the most important responsibilities of any given human generation is to enhance existing knowledge and to improve methods of transferring accumulated knowledge to succeeding generations. It is the method by which mankind has evolved from cave dweller to space traveler.

An essential element of the successful transfer of information from one generation to the next, however, is the credibility of those providing the information. As is apparent in all human relationships, credibility, once damaged, is difficult to repair.

With this in mind, we should question the motivation of a culture that encourages its infants to believe in a mythical being that will eclipse the presence of God in their lives during the early, formative years. What is the upside, and the downside, of our children knowing far more about Santa Claus than they do about our Heavenly Father and Jesus?

The upside, according to many people who participate in the presentation of their children to Santa Claus, seems to be that they take pride in continuing a cultural tradition. The occasion also provides an opportunity for them to show family and friends that they are responsible parents who will sacrifice time, energy, money, whatever it takes to make sure their kids have a great Christmas.

But what is the downside of this practice?

Obviously, credibility is a vital part of any meaningful human interaction. And, in the case of parents and children, it should be as important as love and companionship.

Most people, however, never seem to appreciate the irony of a parent instructing a child not to lie because the parent wants to believe everything the child says, and then going to extraordinary lengths to orchestrate a hoax designed to convince the child of the existence of an imaginary being.

And what happens to a child’s relationship with parents and others entrusted with his or her development when the child discovers the truth?

Whether it is a huge disappointment, or merely a confirmation of something they already suspected, most children are able to rebound and carry on with their lives. But there will be a seed of doubt forever planted in their minds regarding the credibility of their elders, a subliminal reminder that information received from adults may, or may not, be factual.

And this seed of uncertainty, subconsciously embedded during a critical period of development, may come back to haunt the parent-child relationship at a time when the parent really needs the child to accept the parent’s instructions about the many dangers in the world such as drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, gambling, and so on.

While it may be true that there have been no scientific studies to determine if the celebration of the traditional American Christmas creates a negative impact on a child’s perception of adults, common sense would seem to indicate that programming our children from an early age to mistrust authority is not conducive to the successful transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next.

Another down side of the Santa Claus legend is the fact that parents don’t receive the gratitude and respect they deserve from their children for providing the toys and gifts they asked for. The truth regarding the often heroic efforts of parents to make their children happy is a much more inspiring story than the time-worn saga of “the jolly old elf.”

The most damaging consequence of perpetuating the Christmas myth, however, is that, once children realize they have been deceived about the existence of a supernatural being, they may become more inclined to question the existence of our Heavenly Father.

After all, if the Santa Claus they could see and touch turned out to be phony, how could anyone realistically expect them to readily embrace the concept of an invisible God?

© Paul Howard Nicholas

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