On this post, I discussed the challenges to parenting a child who can see spirits with respect to the belief in Santa. Today, I’m reporting on the conversation I had with her about the “truth” of Santa.
Before I do that, I want to take a moment to explain why my wife and I enjoy playing along with the myth of Santa (by ‘myth’, I mean a traditional story involving supernatural beings or events): it’s fun and it’s culturally relevant. It’s a cultural myth that we like to play along with.
Societies are based on cultural myths – mystical ideas that aren’t rooted in the material world. Let me illustrate with a political example:
The United States has a myth (and here, I mean a widely held but false belief or idea, also rooted in mysticism) that its government is established by the consent of “the People.” The founders of the United States rebelled against a nation build on the concept of “the divine right of kings.”
Part of the genius of the founders of the US was in how they replaced “Divine Right of the Kings” with “Divine Right of the People.” But this is a myth: a myth we believe in. There is no “The People.” Only about a third of Americans supported the Revolution against Great Britain, and even less were actually allowed to vote. Today, only a small percentage actually participates in the electoral process, and when 51% of those people vote a certain way, the American leaders often talk about “The People have spoken” and everyone more or less goes along with it. (For a really interesting break down on how the American Founders built the myth of “The People”, check out this book: “Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in Great Britain and America.”)
In short, every society has lots of myths it believes in to impose mores on its people.
Santa is a fun idea that inspires imagination and wonder. But when your daughter can see spirits, how does she interpret Santa?
When I was her age, I more or less figured it out. If you’ve seen “The Polar Express”, I was the protagonist. I looked in Encyclopedias and just used my reason to figure out who was Santa, and then I embraced the “magic” of it and played a long, for the benefit of my younger sisters. I’ll never forget looking down the snow covered street with my younger sisters, imagining we could see the reindeer on a house, and panicking that we were still awake! In fact, I dreamed that once. And then the magic of waking up at 5 a.m., and poking our head into the living room and seeing the room full of gifts… wow! And two days later, we’re no longer thinking about Santa, but somehow crediting our parents with the gifts. Interesting.
Our daughter is in Fourth Grade, and she’s getting a nice gift she really wants. My wife wanted us to get the credit for the gift up front, and not Santa. In addition, there are many children in her grade that argue vehemently against Santa, have never believed in Santa, and in general, live sad non-imaginative lives.
It’s so easy for my daughter to believe in the supernatural because she sees it all the time. So her mother and I discerned now was the time.
One night, last week, my daughter and I went for a walk. We live in a small town, which organized a shopping event in its traditional downtown (largely put out of business by the mall and Walmart), complete with later-than-normal shopping hours. We live close to the downtown area, so my daughter I walked there in the frigid cold and visited some old shops.
The music store had speakers outside, playing Christmas music down the street. A car dealership arranged for a horse-drawn carriage to give rides (which we enjoyed, despite the chill). I lost my ear muffs at some store (so typical for me), and found 40-year-old record player I ended up purchasing later. It was quality daddy/daughter time.
The downtown restaurant had a Santa, one with a real beard. She wanted to go visit him.
I said no.
As we walked, I said, “Honey, you know that’s not the real Santa.”
She said, “I know.”
My heart leapt. Did she really know?
By now, we were walking home. I said, “I want to talk to you about Santa.”
She was silent.
And then she said, “Don’t ruin my childhood.”
I told her it was important for her to know. I explained who was “behind Santa”, and how we liked The Polar Express take on the whole thing.
She wasn’t happy about it. She really did believe.
We didn’t bring up the reality of God or Jesus or angels. We stayed on topic. I told her I wanted to play along for the benefit of her two younger siblings.
She was upset. Depressed even. When we got home, she went to her room to have a cry.
I felt like I had made a mistake in telling her the truth, and then doubted if we should have played along at all. I questioned my wisdom (I still do). My wife looked at me with questioning eyes, and was concerned for her daughter, while the two younger kids played the Wii.
Being a typical male, I decided to leave… and went to buy that record player.
When I came back, our daughter was fine, and talking about what Santa might bring to the younger kids. Her eyes sparkled. She helped me carry my new record player in.
She came and gave me a hug and apologized for getting upset.
What happened? I wondered.
When I was gone, she told her mom she felt like Christmas was ruined. Amy reframed the reason for the season.
Now check this out: Our daughter thought that Santa was in fact one of God’s angels, and brought material gifts as a symbol of God giving Jesus to the world. Wow.
I didn’t see that coming at all. She had taken the myth of Santa and layered it into her existing worldview, which she knew to be true.
After all, she had seen angels bringing “gifts” to people before… spiritual gifts and anointing, particularly during Holy Spirit-driven worship and prayer times.
It had taken her about 20 minutes to come to grips with the reality of who was behind her Christmas gifts, and she fully embraced it, and is now playing along even more so than before, when she suspected, but wasn’t sure. In fact, after it snowed recently, we “went to the North Pole”… something we had played at for several years now (going to a local park and pretending we were explorers going to Santa’s village).
Christmas isn’t ruined. Like many things, my concern was much ado about nothing.