Over at Emergent Village, Jenell Williams Paris reflects on what to tell her kids about Santa, a subject that has also become an issue around our house this year (my daughter is two and a half):
Should we really encourage children to project their material aspirations onto an idealized white man? As a full-time working woman, I don’t want my own hard work, income generation, present-purchasing and gift-wrapping to not only be entirely discredited, but all attributed to a benevolent white man. And I also don’t want to encourage my children to associate material wealth, kindness and generosity, and feasting with whiteness and maleness….
If Santa were a refugee, or a woman of color, or a plant or animal, I could probably get on board. But theologically speaking, Santa is in direct competition with Jesus, and it seems that Jesus pales in comparison. They’re both bearded white men (in the American imagination), but Santa gives more hugs and lets you sit on his lap. They’re both invisible characters that appear from time to time, so how do you convince a child that though you once told them both were real, only Jesus is really real? They both listen to petitions, but Santa grants wishes in material, fun, lit-up ways. Jesus occasionally answers, but with much less reliability than Santa. Your odds are much better if you pray to Santa for a Wii than if you pray to Jesus for your fighting parents to not divorce.
I’m not sure what to make of Paris’ concerns about racism and sexism. If Santa is allowed to become the focus of Christmas, I suppose this could be a problem, but as long as Santa is just a character in certain stories, one among many others, I don’t see the big deal. In any case, my daughter is not really old enough to ask a question like “is Santa real?” To her, Santa is a character on TV, only as real to her as Dora the Explorer and Little Bear, and I’ve tried to keep it that way.
But this is one area where my wife and I don’t quite agree–her family always got gifts “from Santa,” whereas mine never did, so she is much more comfortable asking things like “what do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?” I just don’t see the value in transferring Santa from being a character in her books and on TV into an imaginary person in the real world. But what I really do not understand is why parents would continue to insist on Santa’s existence even after their kids start to question it. Shouldn’t they be glad their kids are thinking critically for themselves? Why lie? It isn’t as though they are protecting them from some dark secret. I just don’t get it.