Wednesday, December 12, 2012

santa baby

We had our first encounter with a man dressed up as Santa.

Someone was just a bit terrified, which I naturally found hilarious (excuse the pale/tired/pregnant look).  For the record, Santa here is a man we know very well - in fact, he is one of the contractors who helped put the addition on our house! 

Santa is kind of a problem for me.  Not this particular Santa, but the concept in general.  At its heart, it's a good thing.  Saint Nicholas was a real fourth-century man who had a generous spirit, worked many miracles, and liked to give gifts in secret. 

But somewhere along the way, especially here in America, we've gotten all mixed up.  Now Santa only gives presents to good boys and girls (except most of us don't mean that, and will still give Santa presents to our kids no matter what their behavior is, making it even more confusing as a parenting strategy), and his generosity is used as an incentive to good behavior.  Elf on the Shelf is a sort of iteration of this narrative.  We don't really have any shelves that work for that, since I want everything in our house to be accessible to Vicki.  Plus the idea makes me shudder.

I also wonder about it from a Montessori perspective.  Maria Montessori urged that children learn reality, and that we not reinforce myths and stories as truth, unless they actually are true.  Children rely on trusted adults to help them sort fact from fiction for quite awhile.  I found a good article on this topic that addressed the common accusation that Montessori is anti-imagination, anti-fantasy.  The truth is that Montessori education insists that children learn reality first, so they can clearly distinguish what is fantasy from what is reality.  And no matter how you slice it, telling your kids that someone comes into their house in the night and leaves presents under the tree just isn't the truth (and if it is the truth, I need to get signed up for this program!).

I never actually believed in Santa - not that I can remember.  My folks did the charade, but I have older siblings, so most of these things were already ruined fo rme.  I remember not being able to sleep one Christmas Eve, coming down and seeing my mom putting the Santa presents under the tree, and she got so angry with me.  Angry that I had discovered the fantasy that she was trying to make into reality for me.  I never forgot that.

But then part of me also says that one of problems of modernism was scientific reductionism.  Myths could no longer hold any weight because they could not be proven.  We lost something in our culture at that point.  We lost faith in a single narrative to explain things, and thus launched postmodernism.  We lost the trust that we had once had in the supernatural.  Now we need sonograms to know that babies are really inside of us, we need proof that Jesus performed miracles in order to believe, and we need news from the source that we prefer because it caters to our reality (but that really is a kind of devolution back into myth:  post-postmodernism?).

Vicki is getting old enough to know about Santa.  I don't think that we will give her any presents from him, and I will wait until she asks questions about it and then try to frankly answer her.  But she might just be that killjoy child who ruins it for all the other kids in her class - fair warning.


FarmerAmber said...

We have told our kids that Santa left what was in their stockings and that the gifts came from us. As soon as either of them asked if Santa was real, we were honest and told them no, but that it was fun to pretend. This will be the first year where the Santa cat is out of the bag for both of them (our daughter asked the fateful question this week), but it still makes a good story. We have fun with it and don't take it very seriously. That's what that part of the season's all about - having fun and not taking ourselves too seriously - right?

Sandy said...

Not having any kids yet, I can only dream of what this is going to be like. In spending far too much time on Pinterest, I've found some really thoughtful and well-written articles and ideas for addressing some of this stuff. I really do like the idea of montessori-style learning and the concept of teaching reality, but I also think kids need a little bit of mystery and magic in their lives. If anything, the ability to believe (and the desire to do so) is one of the big lessons for adults, and the children in our lives are our best teachers!

Jen said...

all great points. i believed in santa until i was eleven, and am overwhelmingly grateful for my enchanted childhood. i don't think the holidays would have felt as special to me without a little magic mixed in, and i like specialness. i also think stories like santa and the easter bunny were good arenas for practicing belief, as they connected invisible personalities with tactile experience, whereas God belief didn't really have a physical correlate that i could grasp as a kid. it made the world of the invisible real to me, and my devotion to those characters did translate into religious devotion later, even given the sting of santa disenchantment. it's complicated, though, and i totally understand parents not wanting to "lie" to their kids.

Emily said...

Absolutely! And I think, from an adult perspective, most of us understand that our parents weren't trying to maliciously deceive us with Santa. Maybe I would rather tell the story of Santa, and then ask that we to pretend to be Santa - like by giving presents to people without telling them who did it? Or something like that?

Emily said...

I agree completely. That's what makes me think twice about ruling out Santa, and other magical, fantastical myths. Our culture lost something when we wanted very clear distinctions between truth and untruth. And it has been one of the crises of faith ever since. The very idea that I would think that telling my children that Santa is real is a "lie" betrays how influenced I am by this stream fo thought.

Emily said...

Yes! This is what makes me think twice, rather than just throwing the whole thing out. It's incarnational, isn't it?

even one sparrow said...

I have very vivid memories of believing in Santa -- looking frantically in the sky for him or trying to stay up really late to hear him come down the chimney. But my parents never pushed it, and I grew out of it. To me, it's sort of like believing in fairies or unicorns. My parents never SAID they were real, but for a time, I believed they were. Then I grew up.

I won't push Santa, and if asked out-right, I think I will explain to my daughters that Santa is like a storybook character -- like Cinderella or something. But if they believe in Santa for a time, I don't think I'd go out of my way to tell them he's not real unless they become oddly obsessed.