Saturday, January 12, 2013

The day Santa died...confessions from a pastor's wife.

Lovely title for a post, I know.  But, it is what it is.

This was the year we told all of our kiddos about Santa (ages 4, 6, 7, & 9).  It was over a year in the making though.  Last year I felt guilty.  Every time the kids would mention Santa I felt like I was just a big fat liar.  I oversee Children's Ministries at our church and Chris is the Associate Pastor.  And we lie to our children.  Uggghh.  We talk to them all the time about the importance of obeying God and telling the truth.  Then we would spend a month making up some story about a fat man, wearing red, with flying reindeer, who squeezes down every body's chimney on the same night to bring kids toys.  Weird when you really think about it that that is a believable story in itself. 

To be fair, Santa has never played a big role in our Christmases.  We've always spent our time teaching the kids about the true meaning of Christmas.  They've heard it and read it so much that Sophia has the entire story memorized.  Pretty cute to hear actually.  We never argued his existence, but we also didn't bring him up.  If the kids mentioned him then we would talk. Or if we read a book, or someone else brought him up, then we'd talk about him.  But we never played the "Santa knows if you've been naughty or nice" card.  Because, um, sorry God trumps Santa.  And I would rather our kids act appropriately to honor God than to get more toys from Santa.  To be fair, we did always leave Santa cookies and milk on Christmas Eve, but again, I felt guilty last year about this.  Plus, the cookies are barely edible after the kids frost them....but, oh, I digress!

So Chris and I agreed that this year we'd tell the kids the truth.  And it happened the day after Thanksgiving.  Although we agreed to do this and completely agreed on why we wanted to do it - Chris was dreading it.  He kept telling me I was going to kill Santa Claus.  He thought they'd be devastated.  I didn't.  I thought if they knew they were still getting presents, they wouldn't care one bit.  Who do you think was right? 

So, we read the kids the true story of the historical St. Nicholas.  At one point, I read the date when he died and Sophie had a light bulb moment.  She said, "but if he died does Santa still come to our houses?"  Right.  That's what we're talking about tonight. 

So we spent our evening talking about truth vs. tradition.  We talked about the truth of St. Nicholas historically, and the truth of the Christmas story in the Bible.  And we talked about the fun tradition of Santa Claus.  And we reassured the kids that even though Santa doesn't exist, they would still get presents in their stockings because that's fun for us to do.  Ding, ding, ding.  That's all that mattered to them!  

But, then the hard part.  We talked to the kids about how this was supposed to be just between us - that every parent gets to decide when or if they tell their children the truth.  Because most parents want to wait longer and have so much fun with the tradition side of it. We didn't want our kids to be the ones to tell their friends that Santa's not real.  Though, honestly, the kids have these debates in school every year no matter what.  Every single year the kids have come home having these discussions.  There's an atheist in one of the girls' classes, or a youngest child in another, etc.  The kids talk about this no matter how much the parents or teachers don't want them too.  Still, I didn't want my kids to be the ones doing the talking. 

The girls took all the information in fine.  But you'd be surprised how many random adults actually talk to them about Santa.  They learned to politely nod and smile rather than tell the adults they knew he wasn't real.  They didn't say it outright, but they gave me some panicked looks a few times since they didn't know how to respond.  We then had to have a second conversation about how to respond to the well-meaning adults.  They're quick learners though. 

Sam, well, he's only four.  It was tough to figure out exactly what he understood.  Since he's positive Batman and Spiderman are real.  It seemed like at any given time he thought Santa was real and then a few minutes later knew he wasn't.  I think he was pretty confused because his teachers and other adults kept talking to him about Santa. Now, a few weeks later, he'll tell me Santa isn't real and I know he's got it.  He'll understand it much better next year though I'm sure. 

But, for the sake of being honest.  It didn't go perfectly.  Sam did mention once to his Parents' Day Out class that Santa wasn't real.  But, in a room of 4 year-olds rarely are any of the kids paying attention nor would they believe him even if they were.  And teachers are very good at redirecting kids.  I'm not making excuses, well, maybe I am.  But we had a long talk about that and from that point on he would tell me he knew he wasn't supposed to talk about Santa with others.  I don't think any long term damage was done.  But, still, it did happen. 

In all honesty, if I could redo things, I don't think I would have introduced the kids to the idea that Santa is real at all when they were young.  We never told the kids that the Easter Bunny existed.  They never got presents on Easter.  And they've always known Easter is about Jesus dieing on the cross and rising again.  It's not been an issue.  I think I would just teach the kids the truth from the beginning if I could do it all over again and talk about the fun tradition of Santa Claus. 

In a blog I read a year ago, there's a few lines that just stuck out.  I couldn't forget them once I read them.  It said, "Because honestly? For a five-year-old, how can Jesus compete with Santa? Our children don't have spiritual perspective; when faced with the choice of allegiance, they have a baby in a manger, or they can get a jolly, twinkling, flying character who will bring them presents. This is going to be an easy choice for them."  Source.  I loved this entire column but this one line....well, it just really made an impact on me. 

Do I think we traumatized the children by telling them at a young age the truth.  Not at all.  Did it work perfectly.  No, but I think we expected that with Sam.  Are we glad we did it?  Heck ya!  It was so nice to spend the holiday season not feeling like a huge liar to my children.  They won't look back at me and think, "well, if she lied to me about this....what else was a lie?"  Gosh, the last thing I would want is for them to think anything we've taught them from the Bible was a lie.  And if I expect them to be truthful with me, then I want to be truthful with them. 

But I didn't expect it to be so controversial.  I mentioned it to some people.  They were all surprised.  Some seemed upset with us, like they were somehow invested in the situation.  Like we were ruining our kids' childhoods.  I didn't get it.  But then again, we try not to parent the way the "world" says we should parent.  We make a lot of choice and do things differently at times than most.  But in the end, I think we're doing our best to parent them in a God-honoring way.  Even if we had to kill Santa. 

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