November 16 2016
Family/Happiness

Why We Need Santa

Me, my cousin and my dad undercover as Santa
Me, my cousin and my dad, undercover as Santa

The  innocence of childhood is like a creamy white jug of milk – wholesome, pure, beautiful and marked with a looming expiration date.  All children must grow up. We wouldn’t have it any other way.  But those moments of revelation that leapfrog your child closer to their grown up self can be wrenching. I had one of these recently and it turned me into a philosophic wreck.

As my 8-year old continues his walk on the path of growing up, beloved bastions of childhood have begun to teeter precariously on the head of a pin.  The unavoidable forces urging him toward maturity began converging on one big, red thing: Santa Clause.

To believe or not to believe…

Earlier in the year he began talking about how many of his friends no longer believe.  I’ve always felt uncomfortable with how our culture employs a certain theme about Santa – that kids who don’t believe are lacking a special quality.  That it’s somehow a character flaw.  I love Christmas and Santa, but I have always hated the weird subtext that derides children for listening to their inner voice.  Do we really want to give kids the message that they shouldn’t trust their instincts?  Or that they are somehow doomed to become accountants instead of poets once they stop believing in Santa?

So when my son started raising the topic, we were prepared to go with it and not implore him to believe.  The topic kept arising.  One thing led to another and, the next thing I knew, I walked into our dining room to find my son sitting on my husband’s lap, sobbing hysterically.

Sweet mother of mercy.
Leaving milk for Santa when you're 6...
Leaving milk for Santa when you’re 6…

In one fell swoop, we hacked off a beautiful, cherished branch of childhood.  The worst part was, this limb was still alive… still needed.  In hindsight, I realize that in broaching the subject, my son wanted to be assured that Santa was real.  But the cat was out of the bag.

He was devastated. We tried to understand his despair.  Did he feel like we tricked him?  Did he think he wouldn’t get any presents?  No, what made him sad, he said, was the feeling that Christmas wouldn’t be as special.  I could see right away that it was the magic that we took away. Not just the magic of Santa, but all the magic that he still believed could exist in the world.

Perhaps we all need to believe sometimes.

Magic, wonder, the feeling that there is mystery in the world, that we cannot explain everything. That miracles can happen.  This dims as we get older.  But it is still needed, perhaps now more than ever. Life would be dull, drab and depressing if all magic and mystery were off the table.  I tried to focus on that as I consoled him.

I said that just because it was us who put the presents under the tree, that it doesn’t mean that there is no magic in the world.  That magic is about all of the things we cannot see.  That we believe in God, even though we cannot see proof.  I told him that even if Santa didn’t leave gifts at Christmas, maybe he is still real, unseen, working miracles, curing sick children and answering prayers.  I told him that there is a reason adults often turn back into children at Christmastime.  Because there is a genuine, special magic at work, especially when you help other people. And that we could do that.

I essentially created a composite of God-Jesus-Santa, confirming all the worst “war on Christmas” fears that Santa has ruined the true meaning of the holiday with his widespread secular appeal.

But in my son’s innocent hurt, I saw how Santa is a sweet and lovely embodiment of the religious ideals of Christmas.  He taps into the spirit of goodness and kindness, translated into the language of children.  For cynical us, Santa might mean shopping, debt and someone profiting off of us, which they are.  But for children, he means something radically different.  Even though the world is cynical, that doesn’t mean we always have to be.

I was raised Catholic. But my religion is more of a cultural marker, an unbroken line connecting my great-grand parents to my children, rather than a literal belief of everything the church says.  Like many Catholics, I see the church as the keeper of beautiful, ancient rituals, a one-time steward of culture, knowledge and art, and the root of treasured family traditions that bring richness and deeper meaning to the important moments of my life.  The grand ideas are lofty and inspiring. The silly ones, I take as polite suggestions, which I kindly then ignore (like the other 99% of Catholics who, for example, practice birth control).

Something to believe in…

But even though I disagree with church teachings on many things, I concur that the historical Jesus is an undeniably awesome guy, telling the money lenders to suck it and speaking unrelentingly for the poor and vulnerable.  He was a radical, a disturber of the peace.  It’s a miracle that his revolutionary embrace of goodness, kindness and charity over power and greed comes across after 2000 years, even through an often tainted lens. I agree that this message is the true meaning of Christmas and I believe in it.

But these are complicated ideas.  Children wouldn’t understand them.  What they do understand is that the pure, otherworldly goodness of Santa makes Christmas special. For a little while, at least, that is all they need to know.

Growing up means learning Santa is not real.  But maybe we can break childhood’s fall by teaching kids how to create magical ripples in the air around them, just by making other people happy.  After months of searching for a way to volunteer with my son (you’d be surprised how hard it is to find opportunities for kids younger than 14) I finally have us set to help at our church’s food pantry.  If he must grow up, I hope that he can see how being on the giving end, like Jesus, and yes, like Santa, is another kind of magic he can believe in.

why

You Might Also Like

  • Love, love, love your description of Jesus. That’s the foundation that my faith is based on, free from all of the deceit, greed, hatred and other perversions we’ve managed to spew in the name of Christ.
    As for my kids, I’ve always felt mixed emotions as I’ve watched them grow older. My son recently turned 16, and on one hand I’m so excited to see him become more independent, and begin to spread his wings. On the other, I struggle daily with the less frequent hugs, and I love you’s! 🙂
    Great post, Linda!

  • Thank you MMM. Watching them grow is amazing, life affirming and heartbreaking all at once. And I agree, if there is one thing we need in this world now, it is kindness, goodness and charity in the face of selfishness and rampant far-reaching greed.
    Brooklyn Bread recently posted…Why We Need SantaMy Profile

  • All three of ours still believe in Santa and I’m not sure what it’ll be like when we get to the point that changes. We have Santa in the mix but try as much as we can to keep him as an added piece of Christmas, but not the core. Each if our kids gets three gifts from Santa, the same way Jesus got three gifts at his birth. We make a birthday cake, light candles, and sing happy birthday to Jesus. On Christmas Day, we have a movie night and all sleep in the living room as a special tradition.

    I’m hoping that all of these help when we get to the point that they don’t believe – that we’ve put focus and magic in other areas, but I’m nervous nonetheless.

    I love your idea of focusing on emulating the Santa spirit and emphasizing giving with your kids. Definitely something I’d like to work in more to our family activities for the holidays (and year-round).

    • Yes, kids are naturally good and generous and want to make people happy. I am very focused right now on preserving that as much as I possibly can. Family is a very big part of my emotions for Christmas. I didn’t really realize it as a child, but I naturally came to see that my love for Christmas was wrapped up in memories with my family. I think they will get that no matter what. I remember when I stumbled on my dad’s Santa suit and realized that it was him. I don’t recall being so sad as my son was. It never stopped me from loving Christmas.

  • My wife and I have been debating whether or not we want to raise our son believing in Santa. I grew up with Santa while my wife didn’t. So she doesn’t completely get the “fun” of believing in Santa. I’m not sure I’ll convince her but I definitely will be sharing this article with her.

  • What a fantastic article!! My husband and I don’t have children yet but we’re discussing this the other day. I love how you expresses your thoughts and worded it, was a great read!! Look forward to reading more!

    • Thank you so much, Aleks. You’ll see… everything is so much more loaded when you have kids. I was just checking out your and your husband’s blog – it’s very cool, I like it a lot. Glad to have found it… -Linda

    1. […] is that Christmas is an emotional danger zone.  That can mean melancholy feelings associated with watching children outgrow their childhood.  Or deep kernels of sadness hidden inside Christmas memories of people who have gone from the […]

    2. Aleks F. 09:19pm 25 November - 2016 - Reply

      What a fantastic article!! My husband and I don’t have children yet but we’re discussing this the other day. I love how you expresses your thoughts and worded it, was a great read!! Look forward to reading more!

      • Brooklyn Bread 07:50am 26 November - 2016 - Reply

        Thank you so much, Aleks. You’ll see… everything is so much more loaded when you have kids. I was just checking out your and your husband’s blog – it’s very cool, I like it a lot. Glad to have found it… -Linda

    3. Mustard Seed Money 04:57pm 20 November - 2016 - Reply

      My wife and I have been debating whether or not we want to raise our son believing in Santa. I grew up with Santa while my wife didn’t. So she doesn’t completely get the “fun” of believing in Santa. I’m not sure I’ll convince her but I definitely will be sharing this article with her.

      • Brooklyn Bread 07:17pm 20 November - 2016 - Reply

        There is an undeniable magic to Santa. The childhood memories I have of Santa will be with me forever.

    4. Chris @ KeepThrifty 02:57pm 18 November - 2016 - Reply

      All three of ours still believe in Santa and I’m not sure what it’ll be like when we get to the point that changes. We have Santa in the mix but try as much as we can to keep him as an added piece of Christmas, but not the core. Each if our kids gets three gifts from Santa, the same way Jesus got three gifts at his birth. We make a birthday cake, light candles, and sing happy birthday to Jesus. On Christmas Day, we have a movie night and all sleep in the living room as a special tradition.

      I’m hoping that all of these help when we get to the point that they don’t believe – that we’ve put focus and magic in other areas, but I’m nervous nonetheless.

      I love your idea of focusing on emulating the Santa spirit and emphasizing giving with your kids. Definitely something I’d like to work in more to our family activities for the holidays (and year-round).

      • Brooklyn Bread 05:32pm 18 November - 2016 - Reply

        Yes, kids are naturally good and generous and want to make people happy. I am very focused right now on preserving that as much as I possibly can. Family is a very big part of my emotions for Christmas. I didn’t really realize it as a child, but I naturally came to see that my love for Christmas was wrapped up in memories with my family. I think they will get that no matter what. I remember when I stumbled on my dad’s Santa suit and realized that it was him. I don’t recall being so sad as my son was. It never stopped me from loving Christmas.

    5. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe 12:15pm 18 November - 2016 - Reply

      Gorgeous post, Linda. I know that day is coming for us, but I think we have at least one more year. I think I’ll have a better idea how to handle it now, and I hope your son gets a lot from his volunteering.

    6. Brooklyn Bread 06:55am 17 November - 2016 - Reply

      Thank you MMM. Watching them grow is amazing, life affirming and heartbreaking all at once. And I agree, if there is one thing we need in this world now, it is kindness, goodness and charity in the face of selfishness and rampant far-reaching greed.

    7. Mystery Money Man 02:40am 17 November - 2016 - Reply

      Love, love, love your description of Jesus. That’s the foundation that my faith is based on, free from all of the deceit, greed, hatred and other perversions we’ve managed to spew in the name of Christ.
      As for my kids, I’ve always felt mixed emotions as I’ve watched them grow older. My son recently turned 16, and on one hand I’m so excited to see him become more independent, and begin to spread his wings. On the other, I struggle daily with the less frequent hugs, and I love you’s! 🙂
      Great post, Linda!

    Leave a Comment

    CommentLuv badge