Monday, January 2, 2012

Why We Believe in Santa

I woke before the rest of the family on Christmas morning this year, just early enough to stare at the ceiling for a few minutes before I heard stirring in the next room. I smiled at the muffled sounds of the excited voice of my almost-six-year-old son as he told his three-and-a-half year old brother to, “Wake up! It’s Christmas!” The boys were soon bounding in and bouncing their dad awake, and I appointed myself to go downstairs to turn on lights to see if Santa had come.

When I came back up with the good news, my oldest son, Jack, said, “I knew it!” then he proceeded to tell us how, just before he fell asleep, he had seen a sort of red light reflected on the wall of his bedroom, and that it must have been Rudolf, guiding Santa’s sleigh. Of course his dad and I smiled conspiratorially about this, especially coming from that particular child.

Just about every morning at breakfast my younger son, Graham, shares some story about the wild things that happened to him at night. These stories—told as truths—could include anything from rocket voyages he’s taken, to ‘bad guys’ he’s fought, to the nocturnal behavior of his stuffed cat and dog. So we’re used to flavored fiction from that child, but Jack prides himself on saying things in an adult way—he wants to tell us something interestingly accurate…which is why it is so fun to hear him talk with excited conviction about a flying reindeer.

I realize this emotion would be shocking, and even distasteful to many parents, as I am aware of a recent parenting trend to abolish the myth of Santa. These parents argue (rightfully) that perpetuating this myth requires parents to lie to their children, and encourage a belief in…that’s right…magic. I fully support these parents’ rights and desires to raise their children in honesty, but I would also like to explain why I plan to continue this particular tradition, notwithstanding.

I would like to provide concrete factual evidence as to why a belief in Santa can benefit a child, and I have come across some psychological material that supports this, but I have come across just as much that supports killing the myth. And, frankly, when it comes to Santa, it’s just not about the facts for me.

Instead, it is about allowing my children to have a chance, however brief, to experience the magical sheen of childhood. It seems to me that the world is becoming increasingly more cynical, especially in Western culture where we are taught to question everything—which is at once both great and dreadful. I hope my children reach a point where they will process information logically and come to their own conclusions. I encourage that now, but I also want them, for as long as they possibly can, to believe in impossibilities. I want them to come to an adult view of the world…but not yet.

I think that the idea of Santa was more important to me as a pre-teen than it was as a young child. I was a very imaginative child, and the idea that I had to leave that world behind was devastating. I couldn’t understand why I was suddenly socially expected to be more interested in makeup, loud music, and boys than I was in…Recess. So, when Christmas came around, even though I was old enough to see the writing on the wall about Santa, I was glad that my parents humored me and allowed me to hold on to the belief in something magical, and in that area, remain a child for a while. It was one time of the year when I wasn’t expected to be logical or reasonable…I could just believe in something magical and impossibly wonderful in the face of all the impossibly horrible truths of the world.

Some parents are concerned that fostering a belief in Santa (who is not real) negates their efforts to foster belief in God (who is). This is a valid concern. However, I don’t know about your kids, but mine are smart :) . There is a difference in the way I talk about Santa versus the way I talk about God at home, and they know that. They know what Christmas is about, and that Santa is only an ancillary—we discuss that the giving and receiving of gifts (both from Santa, and from family members) reminds us of the Gift God gave Earth when His Son was born. I also recognize that if my children believe in God it will be because I have laid a foundation of knowledge, but also that at some point they have felt something themselves—I would be foolish to think their belief system is solely based on what I dictate to them—or want it to be.

I also think that as parents it feels cozy to say things like “I will never raise my voice at my children,” or “I will never be a bad example to my children,” or “I will never lie to them.” We would like to clasp to another dangerous myth that a parent should be perfect—or at least that a child should think their parent is perfect. But the truth is, Santa or not, our children are someday going to realize that sometimes their parents do raise their voices. Sometimes we make mistakes in full view of our children, and sometimes we lie.

I don’t think it is going to be very many years before my Jack figures out the truth concerning Santa. He may be angry at me for lying to him, but that won’t shatter any notions he might have about me. I have been very clear with him that I may be in charge, and have more experience and knowledge at my age than he does at his, but that I am by no means perfect. I have no problem apologizing to him when I do raise my voice unnecessarily, or make a bad call when a situation is tense.

I guess what I have decided is that I am willing to risk his anger. I am willing for him to know that his mother lied, because I think he will also know that I did it to give him a gift that he will never have another chance to receive—a whole-hearted belief in something magical. I wanted to give him an opportunity that will never come again as everyone, inevitably, will “put away childish things.” In actuality, I don’t think he will be angry when he finds out the truth…only a bit sad, like me, that it could not last longer.