Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Skeptic and Santa Claus

Vinny is really excited about the upcoming visit of Santa Claus.  I am enjoying his excitement and enthusiasm.

After he was born, I had some reservations about Santa. I enjoyed the tradition of Christmas stockings filled with gifts.  But I was unsure how to handle the existence (or non-existence) of Santa Claus.  I did not want to lie to my child, after all.  On the other hand, I recalled a story about my parents telling my older sister that Santa was not real -- "I don't want to know that!" she replied. So being truthful wasn't all it was cracked up to be, either.

I remembered from reading "Ask Marilyn" years ago that she told her kids that Santa represented holiday joy and love, but was not real, and they would all pretend to believe in him.  I thought that was probably how I would handle it, until I read the book Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan.

In the book, they had dueling articles about whether a freethinking family should endorse or eschew the Santa legend with their children.  After reading them both, I was convinced of the wisdom of teaching my child about Santa, to give him an early lesson in reasoning.*

Santa, you see, has a number of parallels with the another supernatural peeping-Tom myth that persists well past childhood in the majority of the American population.  They are both watching and judging you. They both have big white beards.  If you are good, you will be rewarded.  Whatever you get, you deserved -- anything lacking is your fault.  So puzzling through the Santa myth is just a dry run for puzzling through the God myth.  The same logic refutes both.

I've already gotten some skeptical questions about Santa from Vinny.  "How does he go to all those houses?" I was asked just the other day.  "Some people say his sleigh is magic," I replied.  "What do you think of that?"

For now, that was an acceptable answer to his question.  But at some point, says McGowan, the desire to know the truth about Santa will outweigh your child's desire to believe in Santa.  The trick is to allow your child to reason through it on his own, and to never lie to him when he asks direct questions.  That's why, following McGowan's lead, I deflected with "some people say," and allowed him to assess the validity of the answer.

Someday, he will puzzle it all out himself.  He will realize that Santa and his parents use the same wrapping paper, and have the same handwriting.  He will fathom the sheer numbers of houses Santa allegedly serves, and deduce that it is impossible.  He will no longer believe in magic.  And he will put it all together, decide that the benefits of knowing the truth outweigh the benefits of living in denial, and stop believing in Santa.  And when he makes this decision, it will feel good, and not be disappointing, because he figured it out himself.

And I will be proud of my little skeptic, and feel confident that he will use his intellect to dismantle other myths he's exposed to (not just higher powers, but myths about gender, race, politics, relationships, himself, etc.).

* Read McGowan's Santa article here, and then buy the book to read the rest!


EcoGeoFemme said...

Fantastic post. :)

Sally said...

Oh this is awesome! I feel exactly the same way about Santa, and I didn't even know it until I read your post. I love the idea of Santa. I love letting the boys enjoy the magic of Christmas. At the same time, I fully expect them to figure out that he's just pretend eventually. It's part of growing up. I hadn't made the connection to rational thinking and skepticism. Thank you for pointing it out!

I feel completely validated in my choice to do Santa with them now. I've been feeling a bit guilty about it lately since I have many religious friends who don't do Santa. Now I have an explanation for them that makes more sense than "I loved Santa when I was a kid, and finding out he didn't exist didn't hurt me." They won't LIKE the explanation (obviously) but that's something I'm comfortable with.