Speaking of problems that too much theological education creates: our household is having some difficulty getting our story straight on Christmas.
It’s important to understand that I have been self-diagnosed with hyperaletheiality, a condition which makes it psychologically painful for me to knowingly deceive my children. And while I am a huge fan of imaginative play and happy to be a dinosaur, pirate or alien, it crosses a line for me to tell my kids that their presents are actually from an old man who lives in the North Pole. The line between imagination and reality gets blurred, and I move from joining my child’s pretend world to creating a deception.
Naively, I thought that it would be relatively simple to sideline Santa Claus. My plan was to tell the kids that we give gifts to each other to remember the gifts that were brought to Jesus as a child, and because God wants us to be generous and to share with each other. Easy peasy, that’s Christmas at the Cowell house.
The problem is that my daughter is now four. And she’s talking to other kids, who are all excited about Santa. And the Hollywood-North Pole alliance is killing us. You’d almost have to cut her off from all kids’ shows this month to avoid her seeing one that strongly emphasizes how important it is to believe that Santa is real. Isn’t that the last act of every single Santa movie? Christmas was almost ruined, but then people believed in Santa again! The kid heard the jingle bell ring! The reindeer were able to fly over Central Park! Just believe!
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that pushes belief in Jesus as hard as the Polar Express pushes belief in Santa.
This is complicating my plans. I had hoped to just be Santa-agnostic and not really even mention the jolly old elf, but then my beloved daughter, the apple of my eye, my never-waning delight, asked me, with hope-filled eyes, “is Santa coming to our house?”
This is an development I hadn’t anticipated. Now we can’t just ignore Santa and do our own thing. We have to take some kind of a stand.
I was put on the spot by the question and wasn’t willing to just say “yes,” (and a simple “no” wouldn’t have worked either!) So we had a little conversation in which I told her that a long, long time ago there was a person named Nicholas, and he loved God and cared about other people, so he gave good gifts to families that couldn’t afford to buy nice things. He was such a good man that people have told stories about him for hundreds and hundreds of years, but in different parts of the world they called him different names. Now, a lot of people call him Santa Claus. But there isn’t just one Santa Claus, there are thousands and thousands of people who do the same thing that Nicholas did: they take the extra things and money they have and give them to people who need them. So this Christmas, Mommy and Daddy and Grammy and Grandaddy and Uncle Kasey will be Santa Claus for her, and also for some poorer families who need our help. It’s our turn to do what Nicholas did.
I admit, this is all a bit much for a four-year-old, even the world’s brightest four-year-old, which is what we’re dealing with here, but I did manage to avoid pointing out that the modern conception of Santa Claus is largely the creation of the Coca-Cola company, and is basically an advertising gimmick which has further been co-opted and twisted for the benefit of the entire capitalist world and the aforementioned Hollywood-North Pole complex. Sure, I’m a compulsive truth-teller, but some things are just to horrible to expose to the innocents.
And then I ordered Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend, which I hope will help us navigate this conversation next time.