The BBC Internet news feed featured an item recently, a story about a panel of “experts” warning parents not tell children about Santa Claus. The story must have got some push back because it disappeared rather quickly. Stories on the Beeb often linger for days, sometimes weeks but this one vanished almost as soon as it was posted.
Those experts stated that parents should not lie to children as it might do irreparable psychological harm to the kiddies when they finally realize they have been deceived. They are right, of course. Parents shouldn’t lie to their children.
Anyone who is or has been a parent knows that it is not that simple. Not every child’s questions should be answered, or can be answered in a way a young child can comprehend. And then there are those questions parents would rather not deal with right at the moment. Kicking the can down the road is a useful strategy, and sometimes a little deception satisfies. (Ask my grandsons about the gypsy detector…)
So what brought on the BBC article? One might keep in mind the ever present need to generate copy, and the ever present desire for a little attention and publicity among those “experts”. But take them seriously for a moment, even if it is a stretch.
First, if this is a problem, there ought to be evidence of the consequences. But there is no crisis of confidence, no traumatized tykes rioting in the streets because they have been told that Santa isn’t real. Instead we are treated to the sight of Santa being joyously greeted at the annual Macy’s parade. Parents scramble to get the kids to sit for pictures with “the jolly old elf” and Christmas programs abound in churches and schools (in spite of the ongoing grinch-like effort to euphemize them into “holiday” programs).
The simple fact is that Christmas and Santa flourish regardless. Parents find that Santa motivates toddlers to some semblance of good behavior. Children look forward to Christmas and the mad exchange of gifts of every magnitude. In short, Christmas and Santa go together and, even with all the frenzy of gift shopping, it is happily anticipated by one and all, no matter what they think or know about Santa.
But there is a dark side to this matter. Those “experts” are up to something more than quashing a harmless little fiction. I look back to a Christmas short story that became a family tradition when I was young. In the telling, a preacher in a country church explains to his Sunday school class how Santa came to be. As the preacher told his young charges, Jesus is for grownups but Santa Claus is for kids.
There in a nutshell is the whole issue. The reality is that Santa Claus is a stand-in for God and what the experts really want is to destroy the faith of children. Implicit in their argument is that, as Santa is not real, God does not exist and all children should be raised to be happy atheists. Sadly, too many have followed that path.
Still, Christmas and Santa persist. Sure, we make up fictions about Santa and the North Pole. Sure, no expedition to the North pole has stumbled upon a vast toy factory or flying reindeer or any of the rest of it. But the Santa story teaches children to understand faith in the face of relentless secularism. And, as one Facebook meme put it, they go from believing in Santa to becoming Santa. The whole concept of generosity is wrapped up in the annual gift giving binge. No one can participate in the spirit of the holiday if they cannot enjoy both getting and giving. Experts fail to see that but children absorb the idea that there will be gifts under the tree and from that grow to understand and have faith that God will provide.
For me, I still hear the bell even though I know that Santa Claus is the modern manifestation of the true story of a generous ancient bishop. The generosity of St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra is legendary and he has been greatly revered throughout history. We honor him still. I, for one, do not think that Christmas or Santa will fade away. It will be a cold day in this world if Christmas is reduced to a mere winter holiday. And while I dream of Christmases past, I wonder what story Charles Dickens might have told had he listened to the experts.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!