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Monday, December 16, 2013

The Santa Controversy

The Santa Controversy
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“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  These famous words are part of a poetic response to a young girl’s innocent question.  To us they seem mere sentimentality, but I wonder if there is real wisdom there for parents dealing with the “Santa Controversy.”

What I refer to is the challenge many Catholic parents face regarding how to handle Santa during the Christmas season.  I’ve heard arguments on both sides of the debate recently.  On one side are people who say the traditions regarding Santa help open children to wonder at things that go beyond what they can see.  It is also a proper use of myth to direct children to ultimate Truths, when Santa is subordinated to and directed toward the birth of Jesus.

On the other side are those who would say that by going along with the popular culture’s version of Santa, we are lying to children.  If we tell them to believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny, and later they learn that these things are not real, will that not undermine what we have taught them about God?  (Though I would say that if parents’ teachings about Santa can in any way be compared to their teachings about Christ, their spiritual life probably needs a bit of a jump start.)
I have heard many good points on both sides of the issue, and though I have a few thoughts to add to the discussion, I can not pretend to have any more of the answer to the dilemma than anyone else.

In our home, we do hang stockings for Santa, but we do not promote the culture’s understanding of him as a jolly fat man who lives in the North Pole with flying reindeer and a workforce of elves.  (Though given the exposure our children get from the prevailing culture, I know that they may hold some of those assumptions, but we have not taught them.)

We celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas on December 6, and our children know that he was a fourth century bishop who was imprisoned for his faith, later released, and was known for his charity to the poor and to children, especially at Christmas.

We teach the historical truths about St. Nicholas, and emphasize his love for Our Lord and desire to serve Him and His people.  (There is a nice animated video we use: Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa.)  We do not emphasize Santa during the season beyond that, and we try to participate in activities that direct attention on the Nativity.

Why, then, do we hang the stockings, and why do we not directly dispel the parts of the customary tale that are not true?  Are we not participating in the deception of our children?

It’s true that I like the wonder our children display at seeing their stockings, which always include at least one major religious item in them.  Long after they stop believing those stockings are filled by a fat man in a red suit (unless I invest in some red pajamas), I suspect we will continue the tradition.

I intend to explain to my children that the gifts they receive from “Santa” are from him, as a representative of the Communion of Saints who celebrate with them the birth of the Lord.  St. Nicholas was a generous man, devoted to Christ, who loved Christmas.  It is in his honor that we have filled their stockings all these years as a reminder that the people of God, and the worship of God, are not confined to this world.

This is not the “right way” to handle the Santa Controversy, but it is our way.  I pray that it helps our children in their love of God.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  He is alive, in the presence of God, and he gifts you this Christmas and always with his prayers, that one day he may celebrate Christmas with you, in Heaven.