“Are you a believer?”
If you asked me that question, my immediate response would be a resounding “yes.” I’ve been a “believer” since age 16. Although, I would have automatically assumed you were talking about believing in Christ.
But when a teacher recently asked her class of six year olds about their beliefs, she was definitely not talking about Christianity. It all started while reading a Christmas book aloud ; she posed the question of “believing” to the class.
Unfortunately, six-year-old Joy answered honestly: “No.”
She explained that in her family they celebrate Jesus — Santa’s not real. The teacher immediately summoned the first grader for a private conference at her desk (in front of the entire class). There Joy was reprimanded and told it didn’t matter what was taught at home; there they believed in Santa.
Later that day Joy went home and told her mother, “I felt like I was going to cry. But it’s OK, I kept my smile on.”
An email soon went out to parents, presumably of both “believers and non-believers.”
Whether or not Santa is real is not the question. The real question is, do you protect the lie?
In essence, that is precisely the plea of this letter. The urgency in the tone is that of a misguided teacher attempting to protect the innocence of children. She knows that it can be devastating to find out the truth, and she feels like parents are the best ones to “have that conversation.”
To what extent are other children, or adults, supposed to help with the cover-up?
Show me a child that has fond memories about Santa, and I’ll show you one that was devastated.
Travis is a loyal and considerate man. Today he has three beautiful little girls. When his wife asked him whether they would tell the girls about Santa, there was no debating it.
As a boy, Travis’ parents told him Santa was real. Every year, like so many other children, he told Santa what he wanted and then it magically appeared on Christmas morning. He was a child whom Joy’s teacher would consider a “believer.”
Then one day, just before Christmas, his brothers told him the truth. “There is no Santa — it’s Mom and Dad.”
Travis defended his faith in both Santa and his parents and stood his ground, arguing with his brothers. That is until they offered to prove it to him. “What did you ask Santa for Christmas?”
A new bicycle and several other toys topped his list for Santa that year.
Within minutes the boys marched their little brother down the hall to their parents’ bedroom. With all the ceremony of a game show host, the boys opened the closet doors and revealed a shiny new bike, and every present on his list — all just waiting to be wrapped.
Travis was devastated. The boy confronted his parents about their deception. They scrambled and covered their tracks with something about Santa needing their help this year; even then the boy saw it for what is was — a lie.
The damage was done. Travis’ Christmas was ruined. Not by the fact that the presents were not brought by a fat man in a red suit, but because his parents lied so earnestly about it.
He was actually a true believer in his parents.
So whom is to blame here — the parents that perpetuated the hoax? They simply wanted to bring magic to their son’s childhood. Or what about the boys who had no problem crushing their little brother’s heart?
When Joy’s mother tried to explain to her that this can hurt children, she heard herself say,
You can’t go around telling everybody the truth!
I would venture to say that most children are not scarred by the tradition of Santa. Good parents want to pass down a tradition that brought them joy as a child. There’s nothing wrong with that.
However, there are children who are deeply loyal and trusting. They have placed their faith not in Santa really, but in their parents. They believe that their parents are good, loving, and trustworthy — which is most likely the truth.
Parents want nothing more than to create memories of anticipation; usually they want to give their children the special memories they had as a child.
So how does something with such good intentions go so wrong?
When children are innocent enough to consider Santa plausible, it is a treasured time when parents still hold the keys to their hearts. Jesus spoke of this time in a child’s life, and held it as the standard for Christianity:
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” — Matthew 18:2-5 (NIV)
There is an innocence and trust here. We are to trust our Father in heaven with this type of love. This should be protected — not shattered.
It’s possible that is what Joy’s note was desperate to protect. However, she is misguided. By protecting the lie, it only allows it to grow deeper and do more damage when the fateful day of truth unavoidably comes. She is not really protecting the child’s heart.
What’s a parent to do?
Consider this: there is a fine line between a fun tradition and a deep deception. Young children cannot always distinguish fantasy form reality. It’s up to us to preserve their creativity, their ability to dream and to pretend. But that is not embodied solely in Santa Claus. It’s our job to nurture in them that which is truly worthy of their faith.
The beauty of childhood is the ability to accept and enjoy an entire world of pretend. When the line between make-believe is blurred into the realm of faith then this “believing” becomes a deception.
Santa Claus is based on a counterfeit for the Christ of Christmas. All good intentions and treasured childhood memories aside, it’s based on an untruth.
The problem remains for Christian children like Joy to remain faithful to their family’s values while not trampling the hearts of other children. Now that the schools have denied the fact that this is a Christian holiday, and yet continue to celebrate it, they have to make it into something that it is not. As Joy’s teacher said, they spend a lot of time talking about magical things. It must be stripped of its Christianity to be acceptable.
Must Christian children be quiet about it? They can understand the difference between pretending and believing if they are given the chance.
The temptation for young children that know the truth is that they don’t know the depth of the deception. To a child, they’ve simply got some powerful information. They’ve got the “goods” and want to expound on their grown-up knowledge to their friends. This should be warned against, as it’s just gossip in childhood form.
My suggestion to Christian parents that want to preserve their children’s heart is to teach them thoroughly what the Bible teaches about who Christ is, and why He came. Children can get just as excited about giving gifts as they can about getting them. The season is about God’s gift to the world. We can emulate Him, by giving.
Protect their hearts, as one day they will be confronted about what they believe.
We can give so much more to our children than they would ever consider putting on a list for Santa.