[Warning: Parents should read this entry before they let their children near it.]
We subscribe to the “Dish Network” for television viewing. We get the basic package, no HBO, or Showtime, or Hallmark channel. Occasionally, they give us free teaser previews of some channels for a few weeks. Currently, we are getting the Hallmark channel. It is of course full of cheesy Christmas movies at this time of year. It is amazing how many plots can be created to preserve faith in Santa Clause. I have discovered there are also a host of movies devoted to preserving the spirit of Christmas without reference to the red clad oversized elf.
I have not seen, or seen advertised, a movie on Hallmark this week that deals with Christ or the Biblical account of His birth. Years ago that would have offended my presumed righteous sensibilities. I was greatly concerned with keeping Christ in Christmas. I still have that desire but I recognize we have moved into a post-modern, post-Christian era.
When Cheryl and I married we agreed we would not include Santa in our family tradition; Christmas would be about the Advent of Christ and free from commercialism. We were naïve. Santa was woven into the DNA of our parents and central to the holiday season.
When Alethea was an infant we were at Cheryl’s family for Christmas. We rushed home after the church Christmas program to get the baby into bed. As the rest of the family came in I was sitting, reading my Bible. Cheryl’s baby sister, Ruth, was telling about a preschooler at church whom she had asked “what is Santa bringing you for Christmas.” The young child had responded, “Nothing. There is no Santa Clause. My parents buy my gifts.”
Cheryl’s mother was especially appalled at the irreverence of this new generation (mine). I was keeping quiet and staying out of the commotion. All conversations at the Bridges are accurately described as a “commotion;” Everyone talks at once and everyone talks loud.
Thelma pressed me, “What do you think about that, Jackie?”
“About what?” I responded feigning ignorance and preparing my response.
“About a child being taught there is no Santa Claus?” she clarified.
My response was ready but little did I know it was going to be the shot heard around the world and I was about to earn my red badge of courage. As nonchalantly as I could I responded, “I think it may have been good if we would have never started teaching them there was a Santa.”
There was an instant of complete silence and a collective gasp followed by Thelma’s all too frequent thundering, screeching voice of rebuke, “You shut –up, go to your room and read your Bible.” I did go to my room, but not to read my Bible. I was more determined than ever to free my children from the myth of Santa. I just didn’t know how I was going to navigate that mine field.
We agreed to simply teach our children there was no Santa, but that it was best to not talk about it with our families or other children. Many families wanted their children to believe in Santa.
It was Alethea’s third Christmas when we put our careful plan into action. We sat her down and gave our speech. She listened carefully, acknowledged her understanding, but offered no other response. A few days later she came up to me with her big eyes wide open, took me by the hand and spoke, “Daddy, I know there is no Santa, but would it be Okay if we just pretend there is one.”
My heart melted and I gave in, “Yes, Baby, it will be Okay for us to pretend there is a Santa.” In that moment I became a believer (in Santa) all over again. I didn’t have to worry about children being confused or about them being set up to doubt the existence of God. Later, I would come to understand that Childhood imagination is an important stepping stone to a lasting faith in God.
Santa Claus is one of the central myths of Western cultures, a myth that embodies many of the core values of Christianity. This character affords a wonderful platform from which to teach our children the meaning of the incarnation and the influence of Christ on human history.
As of tonight, I am thankful the Hallmark channel is keeping the myth alive.
That’s my view from somewhere close to Polk County.
December 4, 2010