Thanks to everyone for the lively discussion on last week’s post which necessitated a follow-up and set an agenda for upcoming posts. As always, if you’d like to respond to a Monday Call to Arms in longer form as a guest blogger, please email me at leah (dot) libresco (at) yale (dot) edu.
In my more cynical moments, I sometimes think Santa Claus is God’s greatest gift to atheists.
I don’t that mean in the usual, anti-materialist way. The commercialization of Santa Claus is a symptom of the power of materialism and commoditization generally, not a problem in itself. Even divorced from his commercial connotations, the idea of Santa Claus must weaken belief in Christianity.
Think about the story of Santa Claus. Not the one that recurs every year, but the way that the story plays out during a childhood. Santa Claus is usually the first major lie parents are caught in (unless their child already rumbled them on the Tooth Fairy question). When the jig is finally up, what is it that children discover?
They find out that their parents maintained a convenient fiction about a man with powers beyond our knowing, who can see you at all times, who will descend once a year for a day of judgment rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked. Oh, and he has a long white beard.
At that point, it doesn’t matter whether the kids believe that their parents lied because they thought Santa was a convenient cudgel to compel obedience or because they thought that the world would be better if Santa were real.
What matters is that parents lie, about big things. And this lie is almost never revealed by the parents. It’s told by other kids, who have already seen through the lies. And most parents don’t even have the decency to admit they’ve been lying until the children have already given up on the deception.
So what, from the perspective of a child, is the difference between Santa Claus and Jesus?
The Santa Claus story seems like the perfect introduction to religion as a cultural practice, rather than a truth claim or a spiritual discipline. Both become simply a fun or useful story to pass on to your own children and a way of finding a sense of commonality with the neighbors. It seems a strange way to treat a religion.
So, Christians, how do you deal with this problem
Will you/do you bring up your children to believe in Santa Claus?
How should you reveal that Santa/Tooth Fairy/Easter Bunny, etc are not real?
How do you differentiate between Christian stories and the prevalent mythologies and folk tales of your culture?