We do Santa at our house. We invest the minimum amount of energy in making Santa seem real to our kids–he only gets credit for filling the stockings–but we do let the kids get caught up in the mythology of the season. Most years we wait in line at the mall to meet him. Some years we write letters or leave cookies, but usually only if the kids come up with the idea.
I’m not sure why I feel I need to defend Santa since the magic of Santa didn’t really play into my own childhood memories for all that long. I was an early skeptic, figuring out by the age of 5 that the whole Santa thing was just too preposterous to believe. (My main argument at the time had to do with my own lack of a chimney and the refusal of certain television specials to provide a satisfactory answer.)
In elementary school, I got into a very public, very heated argument with my best friend who insisted Santa was real because he used different wrapping paper than her mom. I scoffed loudly at her naive belief and probably ruined Christmas for a few second-graders. I guess I enjoyed believing the myth for awhile as much as I later enjoyed dismantling the myth with logic.
Of all the (mostly Christian) arguments against Santa, the one I give the least credence to is the idea that kids will think God is just a big hoax once they figure out that Santa is. Because Santa is a hoax and God isn’t. I want my kids to raise suspicions about half-baked ideas. I want them to expose falsehoods. Mostly, I want them to ask questions and test the world rigorously. God can withstand the questioning; Santa can’t.
My own oldest daughter (who is almost 6) has plenty of questions about Santa, mostly focused on what happens when you get put on the naughty list. “Can you ever get off the naughty list?” She’s already finding the holes in the Santa myth. (We may have read her a little too much Calvin and Hobbes for her age.) Santa seems like a jolly good fellow as long as you’re on the nice list. But what happens when you’re on the naughty list? Santa doesn’t offer any remedy. You just don’t get presents. That sounds awfully harsh, especially if you’re a sensitive kid who realizes that perfect behavior is simply unattainable. It was just this line of reasoning that led our daughter to ask about heaven, and repentance, and God’s book of life, and then to ask Jesus into her heart last Christmas Eve.
The myth of Santa brought my daughter to the very reasonable conclusion that a moral system that simply rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior is a very, very difficult system to live under. Santa raises a hundred questions, like what is good? what is good enough? why doesn’t he leave clearer instructions for us to follow? For each question, Christ offers a better answer. Santa leaves kids captive to obeying a vague idea of good they may or may not understand, and offers no clear remedy for those occasions may even occasionally disregard. Without a way to repent and be restored to the rewards of the nice list, even my five year old daughter realizes that we would all be, well, pretty sad and hopeless. We were glad to be able to introduce her to God’s Book of Life, a secure list of the names of those who claim the free, full, and forever justice offered by Christ’s death. She was glad to receive it.
God has always stood up to my rigorous questioning. Santa fell apart when I was in kindergarten. I’ve written before about the fact that I’ve been a life-long skeptic and question-asker, but I’ve never been an atheist. So we let our kids believe in Santa while they still find him believable. I think it’s a good starter lesson in testing the world and sorting out what is true. It gives them a chance to figure out what can be faked by a vast conspiracy of adults and what can’t.
I’m glad for the questions Santa has caused my oldest daughter to ask and if she wants to ask the same questions about anything else in the world, up to and including God himself, I say “Bring it on.” God’s more than up for the task.