Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Great Santa Debate

Note: I really am trying to wind up my Christmas themed posts, because honestly, I am SO over it and I'm sure everyone else is, too. However, I had this one and one more post in my draft folder waiting to be finalized and published, so a little more Christmas talk before wrapping it up until next December. By the way, the tree and decorations are making a very sloooow departure from our house.

The dialogue on Santa (or "Santy" as my mom likes to call him) has been a long, hard road at our house. Two years ago when I was pregnant, there were lots of tears over it, actually. We both grew up with Santa, but Peyton's experiences were a little more tempered than mine. My parents totally went ALL OUT over Santa. For one thing, they didn't spend a TON of money, but it was elaborate. For example, my mom was really creative and got me school/office supplies so I could set up a classroom/office in my bedroom one year. I got markers, tape, and memo pads that said "Mississippi Valley Gas" (the company that my dad was then employed by). That was also the year I got a telephone in my room. I thought I was the stuff. Our "big" presents were sometimes things like a cardboard play house that couldn't have cost more than $40. And we were always pretty impressed by the little things, like a tin full of King Leo peppermint sticks. My parents were just really good at picking out small, inexpensive things that brought about true excitement. And she got ALOT of them. I mean the room was usually covered. Also, I have to say my parents were not people who bought us toys year round and my mom would just hoard stuff all year until Christmas morning.

As we got older, though, we started comparing our Christmases to our friends'. I don't think it was ever that big of a deal for me, because of who my friends were, but for my sister who ran with a really ahem, wealthy, crowd of teenagers, it was hard. And that was hard for my parents, too.

I don't want Christmas at our house to be about keeping up with the Jones' and I want our children to know that they are very fortunate to have everything they need and probably a lot of what they want.

Also, my sister and I were both THE last kids in our class to find out that Santa wasn't real. I'm talking late elementary/junior high here, kids. It was bad. In fact, when my sister was a senior in high school and I was in college we mentioned something about Santa being pretend and my dad totally played dumb and acted like WE had lost our minds. He's a real Polar Express kind of guy.

All that to say, Santa and what he represented to me was really magical and something I envisioned doing with our children all along. Peyton had other ideas though. He wrote an entire post about it last year (which is really good and well worth the read- he's a great writer!), but basically he took issue with three things:
1. that Santa/Chrismtas/ect. has all been too commercialized
2. that we'd basically be lying to our children
3. that it took the focus of the real reason for Christmas

We came to a compromise last year, which was basically that when our children were really young we'd indulge their imaginations but not play up Santa the way my parents did. And that when they started asking questions, we'd tell them the truth. I was on board with the compromise, but part of me was really sad about it.

This year and last, we've ended up pretty much doing what my parents did-- we didn't spend too much money, but the quantity of stuff was pretty unbelievable. I look back at the pictures and I'm a little embarrassed, actually. In my defense, I didn't realize how much BOTH sets of grandparents would spoil her :)
This year, my heart has been stirred a little bit. I still don't really think it's a huge issue to "lie" to kids about this (although, I agree that once their old enough to ask questions, it's time to for an honest discussion), but I do thing I've become more aware of the other two arguments- that Santa can be a distraction from celebrating Christ's coming and that the whole thing has become one big marketing ploy.

I've read several different things about it, but a couple that really led us back to this discussion. For one thing, I found this blog post from Ann Voskamp describing how they do Christmas morning at their house (among other things, the children look through catalogs like World Vision and pick out presents for those less fortunate than them); it was so convicting. It led Peyton and me to talking about a few ideas like maybe doing presents on a day other than the 25th and letting that be a day to focus on other things or maybe just trying to limit the amount of stuff we get the kiddos (which, after this year, I realized would require a little discussion with the gran-os, ha!).

And Peyton found a very good article by Mark Driscoll about the different approaches to including Santa. He discussed how you can reject, receive, or redeem Santa. Obviously, he thinks we should redeem the tradition and this is apparently something Pastor Mark encourages for many secular issues. He feels that since Santa is portrayed as a real person with magical powers it can cause children to loose faith in a truly real person with miraculous powers [Jesus]. To me, that is a stretch. But if our children are anything like their deep thinking, formerly agnostic father, it probably won't be. Anyway, the article had some really good points and I liked it.
[Image by Patrick Mahoney]

All this got me thinking a lot and then I read a comment on a friend's blog post where the commenter said that her mom always said to her and her siblings "Isn't it fun to play pretend?" She said when they were little it went over their heads, but as they grew up they realized they had been pretending all along, just as children do every day. I loved that because it didn't really occur to me that we could "do Santa", but at the same time casually make mention of the fact that this was pretend play, just as we might do if we were all outside pretending to be a family of talking bunny rabbits or watching Peter Pan or reading Alice in Wonderland.

So, here we are. Reedeming Santa and playing pretend. At least for the next few years, anyway ;)


Anna said...

That is almost exactly where I have come down on this issue. A friend of mine tells her children that "grown ups like to play games too, isn't it fun?" when talking about Santa. They embrace the Santa experience but while making sure it's understood as a fun game of pretend. I love that, so we're going to treat Santa that way (when babes is old enough to understand what's going on).

Sarah @ Picture Window said...

Great post! One thing I think is important to consider is that Santa isn't necessarily the source of the bad stuff (materialism) surrounding Christmas. I know some people don't do Santa at all, and I think that's fine too. But there can be a middle ground. We did Santa and gifts this year, but didn't make too big a deal of it. Celia got a stocking and a couple toys, and a few wrapped gifts from us. We're careful not to make a big deal of getting new things. We present it as: it's fun to get new things sometimes, but not something to be too highly valued. Celia's learned that the really exciting thing about holidays is that she gets to see lots of family members who will play with her. She could care less about the presents, and I'll keep it that way as long as I can!

Elizabeth said...

Great post Denley! It is such of a struggle to keep Christmas Christ centered and I don't feel like I fully achieved what I wanted to spiritually this Advent and Christmas. Fr. John says all the time we are in this world, but we aren't of this world. It is hard to keep the balance and I appreciate you sharing things you and Peyton are doing to truly have a Christian home for your children.

Anonymous said...

Santa gifts were always a pretty big deal at our house too (and I have to say the easter bunny leaves a lot as well)...Now I'm 30 - married with a baby - and have a 20 year old sister, and Santa still comes to see all of us! We still spend the night at my mom's and wait for everyone to get up to see what santa brought. Now that there's a baby in the mix, it is definitely more about him! I grew up in a very christian home and no matter how much santa brought there was never any question about the real reason for the season and that we were celebrating jesus' birth. santa is just something that my mom has always enjoyed doing and i believe that you can definitely include him while keeping christ first. another thing was no matter how much we got from santa - or any time else -we were brought up to be very appreciative of the things we were given. and one of my favorite christmas traditions that i've been doing as long as i can remember, is adopting an angel and shopping for everything on their wish list. when i was little, i can remember wrapping all the gifts and putting them in a big "santa bag". I definitely believe there is room for Santa in a Christian home, we just have to make Jesus and God the priority. We celebrate Christmas Eve at church, we visit live nativities, Christmas pageants, we have an advent wreath, and much more...but most importantly we celebrate Jesus all year long.

Tiffany said...

I love this post! I could write a whole post about your post. -That's what I love about blogging, you get to find things people do that are just like you and there is great comfort in that commonality. Yet, you can find, as you did, someone else with a new approach that makes think -I've never thought of that, but, that is exactly where I want to go with this. And you can try it and see if it also works for you and your family:) We are letting our kids enjoy Santa. We give them 3 small gifts in honor of the 3 wise men who gave Jesus gifts, and we let them have one big gift from Santa. That might not sound like much, but, like you said we know that grandparents and other family members will be adding to that, so it's always a nice Christmas. We decided this year to stay along these lines even though Hugh is making more money so we can talk about "how cool is it that we get gifts on Jesus' birthday." And I have been praying since before we moved that we would stay grounded and that children will grow up without a sense of entitlement. I don't want to grow a seed of discontentment within them (of always wanting more, more, more.) I bathe them in prayer all the time over many things. Also -I slipped it in this year that "Santa" has many names and when I got to St. Nicholas I casually mentioned that he was a man that lived long ago who gave money and gifts to the poor to show God's love. We'll see how it developes over the next few years. :)

Tara G. said...

There is a verse in 1 Corinthians (and I will look it up and send it to you later) that God used to speak to me last year. He reminded me that in many cases, there is a lot of room for personality and I do not need to take responsibility to convince others to come around to my way of thinking. As parents, we are simply responsible to be the best stewards of our children's lives as we can be with God's guidance and direction. He knows them better than we do, so it is so important to be connected to Him for insight, discernment, and wisdom- and I have absolute confidence that He will reveal to each of us how we practically live that out in each of our homes- again, there is a lot of room for personality within His boundaries. One of the hardest things for us humans is that we get very passionate about certain areas and we want to share it with everyone and have equal enthusiasm. When that doesn't happen for various reasons, feelings can be hurt and often times, we're defensive. So it's good to be completely at peace with what God has convicted YOU of and then another's {strong} opinion can be heard with a little more tolerance and mercy and grace.

You read on my blog that we only give the children one gift. I did not mention that we asked our parents to do the same. It was a bit difficult for them at first and we had to go over the rules again: not one gift and a ton of stocking stuffers, or many things in one box! They love it now and they know that they can do what they want throughout the rest of the year to build the relationship with the kids. But they respect our decision to keep things more low-key in that department at Christmas.