Doing Nice Things To Get Nice Things: The Modern Myth of Santa Claus

December 13, 2016 — Leave a comment

rl2016-christmas-letter-with-borderInstead of writing letters to Santa Clause, we write to the Grinch. The aim is to persuade the Grinch to give Christmas a second chance.

This is our second year of using such a brilliant, practical lesson in persuasive writing. [i]

It’s quirky and fits well with our homeschooling style.

I had another focus for craft last year around this time, which meant that I had to leave out the part where we get to make a Grinch face.  This year, however, I needed a craft-filler with some level of serious coolness, so it was full steam ahead.

If, like us, you haven’t sold your kids the line about Santa Claus “bringing nice things, only if you do nice things”, this is a real alternative to the Dear Santa petitioning.

Let me follow that up by saying that I have no issue with who the modern myth of Santa is based on. Nikolaos of Myra did exist. He stood by his convictions, made some mistakes, such as punching a heretic or two and gave to help those who couldn’t help themselves.  He’s my kind of Saint; the John McClane of all Christian forebears.

What I stand opposed to is teaching kids something that will cause them to question their trust in us as parents later on in life. If we manipulated them with the Santa line, it’s only right that they’d wonder whether there were other areas where their parents weren’t being completely honest with them.

This is as psychologically abusive as any Christian parent misrepresenting the fear of God in an attempt to encourage a child to behave.

Santa Claus isn’t the problem, the lie perpetuated by the modern myth of Santa is.It’s the packaging, not necessarily the content of that packaging.

For parents, teachers and homeschoolers, speaking the truth in love should be of paramount importance. Even when there are family members who might get angry with us for not wanting to become co-conspirators in what is, in all bluntness, an outright Westernised, excessively commercial, lie.

This may seem heartless. It does to some in my own family. I ask, though, isn’t it heartless to raise kids to believe in a lie; to abandon them to figure out the truth for themselves? Isn’t it heartless to misconstrue the truth and distort reality? Not just this, but then consciously employ that lie to manipulate a child’s behaviour?

Coming from a highly dysfunctional family, I’m more accustomed to the effects of this. I acknowledge that this has left me with a slight bias. For reasons other than Santa Claus, I’ve not only experienced it, I’ve also witnessed the harm done by parents who don’t tell their children the truth and instead lead them to believe a lie; the impact of which is made worse when that lie is used to control a person’s behaviour. It doesn’t end well for either the parent or the child. [ii]

If I am going to be teaching my children about faith and reason, these need to be taught with integrity. Believing in the modern myth of Santa Claus isn’t an example of what a faith that seeks understanding looks like.

There is nothing heartless in teaching our kids the truth about Christmas; teaching them about Jesus Christ and the fuller meaning of Christmas is part of a rounded holistic education. The nativity alone confronts our inhospitable tendencies, doubts, weariness and need for rest.

In answer to the charge that I’m simply swapping belief in Santa Claus for belief in Jesus Christ, I would say, no. The context is totally different.

To begin with, I’m not teaching my kids about Jesus Christ for personal gain. It’s a gift given to them to benefit them. It’s not something I’m taking from them to benefit me. Secondly, my sources come from authorised, written historical recounts about a real historical person. Thirdly, in contradistinction to neo-Pelagianism and some well documented bad theology, I’m not teaching them that they’ll get nice things, if they do nice things.

There is no anxiety about whether Santa is happy or sad because of their behavior. There is joy in a deeper learning about the immanence of God, in Christ, who is Immanuel [God with us]. One extended by the fact that on the 25th December every year, most countries in the Western World and the church in the majority world, join together to mark what is generally considered to be the birthday of Jesus Christ.

It unifies ethnicity and draws together cultures. It opens doors and hearts to the good news, has even prompted a ceasefire, brought respite to busy workers and seen both, rich, poor, king and queen bow equally before the one who is, and was, and is to come.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
– (Isaiah 9:6, ESV)

If choosing to do this makes me the Grinch or someone like a Dickensian Scrooge, so be it.

grinch-christmas-rl2016


Notes:

[i] How the Grinch Stole Christmas Persuasive Writing Project

[ii] Sir Walter Scott’s, ”O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive” from  ‘Marmion: The Battle‘ comes to mind.

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