Monday, January 12, 2009

spirit of santa claus

I'm a bit over sensitive to the idea of lying to my children. There is something unsettling to me about informing them that an overweight bearded stranger is responsible for the pile of bright pink and purple plastic that annually populates our Christmas tree. Honestly, it just doesn't sit right with me. Maybe because I want credit for my purchases. Maybe because my deepest scars from childhood involve looking back and realizing I was duped by my (well meaning? self serving?) parents.
I was a very serious, philosophical child. It bothered me that grown ups usually laughed indulgently at my questions about life. Only my father would sit up late hours discussing love, god, truth, faith and the meaning of things. That's why it cut so deeply years later to realize that he'd been using his powers of intellect and manipulation to solicit my regard and approval, meanwhile subtly redefining the lines of reality and truth in his favor.
That brings me back to Santa Claus. I've made an unspoken promise to myself not to lie to my children. Some information, let's face it, lots of information, is on a need to know basis.
But there are enough mysteries in life, and I'm not interested in muddying the waters with what is known fantasy.
In an awkward but funny dialogue weeks ago at book club, I admitted that Levity's kindergarten teacher pulled me out of car line mid December to make a strained request. She informed me that at every mention of Santa in the classroom Levity was leaping up Joan of Arc style and asserting to the entire class that, "Santa isn't real. You're believing a lie." (Can you hear the shattering dreams of little children all across our city?) Why hadn't I briefed her on this topic? While I honestly don't like giving some nebulous clown character credit for all of the gifts under the tree, I don't have a problem with folks perpetuating the Santa myth. I'm just not interested. Truly, had it occurred to me, I would have told her not to share her opinion unless asked. oops.
When I shared the story, to the horrified stare of my dear friend and fellow primary school parent, D, she was stunned. For my oversight in the matter of swearing Levity to secrecy on the Santa thing, D chastised me thoroughly, taken aback that I allowed such a cruel social blunder. That brought the conversation around to my basic question: What is so great about Santa Claus? D's eyes widened and she gasped at my ignorance. 'The Spirit of Santa Claus,' she exhaled. According to D, it's the Spirit of Santa Claus that causes stressed out pre-Christmas shoppers to put away their grimaces and paste on a smile in the stampede to the grocery checkout. The Spirit of Santa Claus keeps her from speeding angrily through downtown traffic, cursing the lemming masses for clogging the intersections with badly timed U turns and driving like they're the only ones who need to get somewhere.
(Santa get's credit for that, too?)
I presented my 'not to muddy the water' spiel. Another friend put forward her thoughts. Knowing my husband is a minister, she suggested that teaching the children about Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy might actually help them develop faith.
That stopped me cold. Is that what people really think of faith? That believing in Santa helps develop a deeper ability to have faith in Jesus?
How odd. I pointed out as gently as I could that telling my children all about Santa, the big Rabbit and the money leaving fairy who trades for teeth, along with Bible stories about Jesus, could actually backfire quite badly. When they get old enough to realize Santa was a fraud, why on earth would they think Jesus is any different?
It made me think, though. There is a difference between having faith in ideals, and having faith in someone. I think a lot of people who follow Christianity loosely have faith in it's ideals. But I have faith in a real, distinct Person. A being who exists outside this created reality. Someone who conceived of everything we know, spoke it into reality with the power of words, and then wrote himself into the plot as a character-born into our race human, just to talk to us, and make a way for us to know Him, understand Him. But this concept is more strange and sci fi than the average person's faith, I think. They aspire to belief in the ideas of faith, so that they might live up to their best possible self, and see the best in others. Maybe they don't even believe the actual Being exists. So they chalk it up to the spirit of Santa Claus.