18 December 2008

Church Lady was right

DISCLAIMER: this is going to make me unpopular. I don't care. You're going to think I'm a horrible, heartless shrew for writing it and you're not going to like me. Tough potatoes.

Picture this: Sicily, 1920.

Sorry. I’m channeling Sophia Petrillo. Where was I?

Right. Picture this: there is an old man – no one knows how old for sure, but we know he’s old. He hasn’t shaved in years. He’s overweight. He’s a pipe smoker, so his beard is likely a nasty shade of tobacco yellow. He’s dirty – he seems to have been rolling around in an ashtray. Everyone knows who he is but no one knows much about him. They do know one thing: he’s interested in the kids.

No matter where they go, he’s there, watching them. Watching them play and learn and wander through Wal-Mart with Mom. But it’s not just in public. He’s known to watch them in their homes as well. Are they eating their vegetables? Are they fighting with a brother or sister? He sees it. He’s always watching. He might write some of it down so he’ll remember. They go to bed at night. He’s there. He watches them sleep. And watches them, and watches them.

Maybe parents aren’t completely cognizant of this at all times. Maybe that’s why when Mom and Dad see the old, fat man at, say, a shopping mall, they take their kids over to say hello. Some kids fight. Some scream. Some cry. Mom and Dad get out the camera.

“Sit on his lap,” they say. “Say hello,” they say. “Be nice,” they say, “he’s not going to hurt you.” But kids know that’s not completely true. Everyone knows the fat man punishes kids he thinks are bad.

And it doesn’t matter how scared a little kid is. Mom and Dad are going to snap their picture, capture that look of abject terror.

They’re not leaving the mall without that all-important picture with Santa.

Pretty creepy, isn’t it? I’ve always thought so.

What kind of story is this to tell your children? An old man is watching you all the time, day and night, so you’d better be good. Or else. Smacks of enabling a pedophile, if you ask me.

I realize that I’m being a bit extreme here. Not every kid is afraid of Satan. I mean, Santa. Some kids get excited. They’ll write him letters. They’ve been good all year long, and they’re going to get their reward.

The idea that good children are rewarded and bad children are punished is nothing new. You can look back through history at fables and folktales and fairy tales, and the theme prevails. Good = rewards. Bad = punishment. But the problem is that Santa is not real. Kids don’t get presents because they’re good. They get presents because Mom and Dad went shopping. But for some reason parents feel the need to lie to their children.

Here many people interrupt me. “It’s not a lie!” is their battle cry. Is Santa real? Well, no. But you’re telling your children he is. That’s a lie. And what’s a child to think when they learn the truth? If Mom and Dad lied about something like Santa – an omnipresent, omniscient being with magical powers – maybe they were lying about other important things – maybe about this Jesus person, too. He’s got some of the same characteristics.

Jesus, by the way, is the reason we celebrate Christmas. Santa takes away from that in a very real, very disturbing way. People will claim that Santa teaches us to be generous and kind … but I’ve never once encountered a child who asked Santa to bring toys to the orphans or the poor kids next door. I’ve never once seen a Santa-obsessed family teach or encourage their children to be generous with the less fortunate. They only say, “Be good or Santa will give your toys away to someone else.” Giving is a punishment, not something important or good or to be enjoyed. Santa for them is not about giving. He's about blackmail. Something to hold over the kids' heads to make them behave.

The poor kids won’t be getting any toys this year. They must have been bad. Good kids get what they ask for. Poor kids don’t get what they asked for … poverty must make you a bad person, right? And Jewish and Muslim children must be bad, too, because Santa doesn’t visit them. Santa only visits good children.

No chimney? No problem. Santa has a magical key that lets him into every house in the world. Am I the only one a little uncomfortable with this idea? We’re in a recession. Santa comes into the house and eats my cookies! Sure, he allegedly leaves presents, but who’s to say he’s not sneaking into the china cabinet while he’s in the house? Pilfering some of the nicer silver, picking the lock on the gun cabinet - or worse, the liquor cabinet.

My mother is fifty-one (hi, Mom) and she still remembers the devastation she felt when she learned that she’d been lied to about Santa. She felt stupid and gullible and hurt. So when my oldest brother was old enough to ask about it, my parents told him the truth – Santa was just a story. And so he, and my sister, and my other brother, and I, never believed in Santa. We were never disappointed at Christmas because we knew that if we only got a few things each, it was all our parents could afford – and that even though money was tight, they still wanted us to have something to open on Christmas morning.

We had other Christmas traditions. For instance, we did what we called drive-by fooding. We’d collect canned and other nonperishable foods, put them in big paper bags, and drive by the homes of struggling families at night. A kid or two would sneak from the car or truck, set the food on the family’s doorstep, ring the doorbell, and run like hell for the car. I loved it. It was a thrill doing it anonymously, and knowing that I’d helped someone have a better Christmas than they might have anticipated. My mom made pancakes or waffles every Christmas morning. It made me sad to think that a kid I went to school with wouldn’t have breakfast on Christmas, and if I could do something about that, even at the age of five, I was going to do it. I didn’t have Santa at Christmas, but I had something better. I had love and compassion.

I never believed in Santa, no. But I never once felt that I missed out. I never once felt like something was missing from the magic of the season. I knew what it was not just to receive, but to give, and to make a difference. I got to play at Santa. And I’m convinced that letting a child play at Santa is worlds better than encouraging him or her to believe in Santa.

And yes, I was one of those rude kids in elementary school who told other children that Santa wasn’t real. But I’m not going to apologize for that. Parents might have lied to their kids (and still do and will), but I wasn’t about to. I believed in honesty, and I still do. Honesty is a good Christian value. I believe in Jesus, not Santa. I celebrate Christmas, not Santamas. And I always will.


wendy645 said...

You know what? That's one of the most touching blog entires I've ever read. Well, the last part. The first part was just funny :-)

If we ever do have kids, Chris and I aren't going to do the whole Santa thing either. Chris doesn't like the idea of lying to the kids, and I remember the devastation I felt. So we'd probably end up doing something like your folks, and it sounds great.


Dana G said...

I sure miss the "drive-bys"!! It's kinda lonely up north with no family around, and Christmas is so different now. I guess Todd and I could/should continue the tradition. But, who would jump out of the car and ring the door bell?

patrice stanford said...

Jill, Jill, Jill. what a distorted view you have of Santa. Here is the only Santa I've ever known. Roly, poly, jolly, happy, spreading cheer to all. So in defence of Santa I will make some comparisons between the reason for the season, Jesus, and the spirit of the season, Santa.

You seem to think of him as dirty and stinky. Oh no, he's very clean and in fact he smells like chocolate chip cookies.

He lives in the North Pole. A nice little house with his long time wife, Mrs. Clause. Jesus lived... hmmm well on the streets wandering from town to town. No known address. And his wife is?

Santa loves childern. Jesus also loves children. In fact he has been quoted as saying bring the little childern to me.

Kids cry when mom and dad want them to go to Santa. Some day, if you ever have childern, you'll find out how happy children are to go to Jesus house, every sunday. Not very.

You say Santa is always watching kids and he will punish them with no presents. I hear Jesus is watching everone. not just kids. Get in trouble with him and watch out. You will be seperated from your family, burn in hell... FOREVER! I'll skip the presents.

Santa has little helpers building and creating with him to make kids happy. Jesus had at least 12 faithful followers, that is until one of them sold out for little to nothing. That lead to Jesus death. No one has ever sold out Santa and hes never been killed.

So why would you only do drve by foodings at Chrristmas time? Why not in, oh, say April, you know when Jesus was really born? Me thinks Santa.

So I would hope you could step out of you demented little existence for a day, a week or a month and enjoy the spirit of Christmas. A time when nearly the whole slows down, and people seem to be a little kinder to one another. It's just fun.


Disclaimer - This was writtten by Tracy not Pat.

Kyle said...

I love it! I am planning on writing an article for why parents should forgo teaching their kids the Santa myth and I am teaching a class on Christmas (and other) traditions. I would love to have your “what happened when I learned the truth about Santa” stories—yours and anyone else you know. If you can, please let me know. davidjohnson@kings.edu (If you are interested, here is my faculty website: http://staff.kings.edu/davidjohnson/) Thanks!