I was raised in a Catholic Eastern European household. By four years of age I understood that God, Jesus, the Mother Mary, and a cacophony of guardian angels watched over me constantly. My parents, in some vague notion of ‘blending in’ with their new country, vaguely told me about Santa and vaguely popped gifts from Santa under the tree, I, however, believed wholeheartedly in the big man. As far as I was concerned, Santa lived in a department store, smelt of brandy, showed up once a year and didn’t really get on with my other imaginary beings. I was also told, in repeated song, that “he sees you whilst you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake … he knows if you’ve been bad or good etc”. So throughout the year I was happy to do my toilet business in the presence of God, Jesus, Mary and all of the angels, but suddenly, come Christmas, this stranger shows up – watching me all the time! Needless to say – and this is a true story - I became severely constipated and unable to articulate why. Off to the doctors, a suppository inserted, and home we went, me: utterly miserable.
Without any enthusiasm, my parents dutifully persisted with Santa, and each Christmas I again became anxious and constipated. One year, thank God – possibly literally - I spied my mother wrapping a gift. That same gift was then left under the tree for me from Santa, and instantly I knew it was a lie. It made me feel a weird disconnect with my parents, especially so as an only-child. I did feel lied to. Yes, I was that child the psychologists warn you about. My parents didn’t particularly handle the transition from belief to non-belief well. By this stage I was seven years old, and there was a sort of Eastern European, “ugh, you slow-witted nincompoop, finally we can all stop with this charade” sentiment.
Now with a child of our own we wonder whether or not Santa will be part of our life. My husband, whose family cared little for Santa, feels he missed out, meanwhile I feel as though an unwelcome intruder was thrust into my life.
Here’s my case against Santa:
Does believing in Santa lead to worse things?
Where does believing in Santa lead to, and where does it stop? I’m not saying that Santa leads to heroin (although he can clearly lead to constipation), but, unlike Angels, fairies and good old monsters under the bed, Santa leaves nothing to the imagination, nor is he a constant presence. He shows up once a year and is so, so real. How does this gel with the stranger-danger message? If you believe in Santa, why wouldn’t you believe in the man with the candy in his van?
Santa glorifies the notion of more ‘stuff’
He is like the patron saint of consumerism. Enough already with the gifts. In this day and age should we still be glorifying gift giving? Christian, Pagan or Atheist, I think we can all agree that ‘more stuff’ is not the reason for the season.
Are children really good or bad?
We should ask ourselves if receiving gifts based on whether we’re ‘good or bad’ – according to the legend of Santa – is something we’re comfortable with. Is there such thing as a ‘good or bad’ child?
Are rich kids better than poor?
Imagine the conversations in the schoolyard after the Christmas break. How do we explain to our children that just because Santa gave them colouring pencils before flying off to little Robert’s winter chalet to deliver the snowmobile he’d wanted, all children are in fact just as good and just as deserving?
The argument for Santa
In a family with a strong tradition of Santa, he can be a lovely and magical thing linked to memories, conviviality and togetherness. In western cultures where we’re losing many traditions, Santa can be a lovely moderately non-denominational part of Christmas. There is probably, however, a right and a wrong way to do Santa, and there’s probably a right and wrong way to manage the transition from belief to epiphany of non-belief. And I am sure there are many how-to Santa guides available online which clearly weren’t available when I was young. When it comes to Santa, it’s a belief and a tradition that’s worth doing right.
Here’s what our house will do instead: Guardian Angels are the true heroes of Christmas
We want Christmas to be about memories. Guardian Angels are the deceased uncles and aunts, friends, grandparents and great grandparents, that watch over us. They will take any form that my son imagines. When he no longer believes, the transition will be soft – the belief in angels can fade into a memory or story that continues to provide comfort - a happy place of sorts. Our son will know his Guardian Angels intimately through tales and photos.
At Christmas time our son will be involved in decorating the tree, but the bells will be added by his Angels. Their presence will be marked by the tinkling of the bells. We hope there’ll be no disturbing dreams of a strange department store Santa, instead our household’s Christmas dreams will be visited by our dearly missed great grandma and grandpa, our Babcia and Dziadek, watching over us as we sleep.