Friday, November 23, 2012

Santa Claus vs. St. Nick: the 'Claus' clause

Saint NickHaving just turned five years old, I was a little young (at least back then) to question the “holiday” law-of-the-land. Of course five-year-olds believed in Santa Claus! But it was back in the day when several ages of neighborhood kids used to hang around together, and I was running with some seven- and eight-year-olds who were feeding me some pretty good reasons not to believe in that benign big man.

Most of you are at least vaguely familiar with the various Protestant Reformation (and later secular) traditions that transformed Saint Nicholas into Santa Claus, so it is not necessary to go into those now. What I’m wondering is why many devout Christians including some Catholics, conclude that, while it’s absolutely crucial to be truthful to your children, in the case of Santa Claus, it’s perfectly acceptable to LIE.

Yes, I used the word lie deliberately, rather than some double-speak like “story-telling” or even “half-truth.” For to go along with the Santa myth is not harmless fantasy; it is deliberately deceiving your children about the Good News, specifically the Salvation Story. In my case, it was not the “time factor” (all those houses in one night!) or “small chimney, big body” arguments that dissuaded me. It was because while many “good” poor kids got few, if any presents, many “bad” rich kids received more than their share—completely contrary to the basic “good kid, bad kid” theory of Santa gift distribution. Perhaps few other five-year-olds adopted my line of reasoning, but the fact remained that my devout Catholic parents were the ones who sold me on the Santa Story, and this made the discovery all the more disillusioning. For it was the first (and one of the only times) that my folks had lied to me—and once that absolute trust is lost, every parent knows how hard it is to get it back.

Also, this article is not aimed at those, who, through negligence, convenience or simple lack of faith, are routinely dishonest with their kids. This warning is geared toward good parents like my own, who through societal or peer pressure, gave in to the Santa Claus myth. So if you are in the latter category, but think I was either an over-sensitive lad or am making a holiday molehill into a holy-day mountain, let me conclude with a couple of good reasons for raining on the kids’ Kris Kringle parade.

First, in our ever increasing materialistic society, I believe this once sacred cow of Christmas consumerism is actually in danger of being swept aside. Twenty years ago Santa may have been safe; the one dude that could be politically correct and fat. But in our 21st century, high-speed, cell-phoned-off society, I notice more and more adult radio and TV ads (which kids all hear and see) poking fun at the Old, Out-of-Shape One whose place techno-society is rendering irrelevant. But the better reason, if you are a Christian, is simply that the real story is better than the make-believe one.

In telling my kids the true story of St. Nicholas, a skinny bishop who did his best to bring gifts to poor kids so that they too might share in the joy of Christmas, I found it fit in much better with the true meaning of the holiday than the cliche-ridden, contradictory tale of sleighs and reindeer. Plus, St. Nicholas’ life is not only a great example of the Christian axiom, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 21:35), it is a perfect lead-in to the story of the Incarnation, where the Lord of Lords received the praise of angels and gifts of kings despite being born in a stable.

So withstand the pressure from your peers or (sometimes) even your own parish, and resolve this Christmas to tell your toddlers the real truth, for in the case of Christ, truth is always stronger than fiction. While it is not necessary to preach, as fundamentalists have, that “Santa is one letter removed from Satan” (for it is possible to show your kids that, just as there is some truth in the various Protestant versions of Christianity, there is some good in the Santa Claus tales), it is imperative not to perpetuate the Santa Claus lie. For Satan IS the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and he will gladly add your version to his X-Mas list if you only give him the chance.

15 comments :

JimAroo said...

A Santa story - When our darling daughter was about 6, she asked the big question in this form: Santa Claus isnt real is he, Dad? Direct question - direct answer... no Katie he isnt real. Mom and Dad give you the gifts. She said that's what I thought..... 10 months goes by and what does she start talking about? Going to see Santa... what will santa bring... I can't wait for Santa. Sometimes fairy tales die hard!

JimAroo said...

Now a Saint Nicholas story. Bishop Nicholas attended the Council of Niacea (maybe the most important council ever). The big issue was the nature of Christ. Good St Nick was on the right team, the heretics were led by Bishop Arius (hence Arianism). The argument heated up, voices were raised and good St Nick punched Arius lights out and was promptly thrown in the hoosegow. They threw St Nick in the clink! The truth won out but the heresy lasted another 600 years....and even survives today. Met a JW lately? St Nicholas, Pray for us and send us more manly bishops like you!

Tom O'Toole said...

Interesting Santa story Jim Aroo ... apparently I took the Santa heresy harder than most kids, but I've always been that way: Truth or Untruth? Show me the wounds! I'm sorry I didn't write more about St. Nick (it's a Great story) but there is some good Arian Heresy fighting tales in tomorrow's Saint post -- Ambrose. -Tom O'Toole, www.fightingirishthomas.com

Lee Gilbert said...

I totally in agreement with you, Tom. If you want your kids to believe you when you tell them about the faith, why would you want to start off by undermining your own credibility?

My parents followed up with the Easter Bunny...and the tooth fairy.

At the local Catholic grade school the first graders were promised a visit from "the clean desk" fairy if they did a good job cleaning up their desks on Friday afternoon. Sure enough, when they arrived Monday morning there was fairy dust and gold stars all over the place. The kids were awestruck.

What else can we do to speed along their eventual apostasy?

Tom O'Toole said...

Dear Lee -- Thanks for the comment. And now with the newly elected King Obama set to pass FOCA, we have more incentive than ever to tell only the Truth about the story of the True King conceived by an unmarried teen, whose birth both enraged and threatened King Herod so much he enacted the original Slaughter of the Innocents decree. -Tom O'Toole

P.S. The Clean Desk Fairy? Yikes!!

EEEEMommy said...

Your wife left a comment on my blog directing me to this post, and I'm glad she did. :)
I emphatically agree with your arguments against lying to our kids about Santa...even though I'm a Protestant. ;)
(I also happen to be a Scotch-Irish "Hoosier" Notre Dame fan...win one for the Gipper).
I'll have to check out your book...it looks inspiring.

Tom O'Toole said...

EEEEMommy -- Thanks for your comment. I take a lot of flack for debunking the Big Guy in favor of the real St. Nick, so it's great to have a Christian Mom on my side.

Whenever I think of the Scotch-Irish, I think of the movie Braveheart. I wonder if we could get William Wallace to play for Notre Dame.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tom, What ever happened to John Corapi? It seems as though he disappeared.

Tom O'Toole said...

SeƱor "C" has been layin' low ... like a snake? My wife could vouch for the fact his remaining followers are all lizards...

God's grace & Mary's prayers,
Tom

Anonymous said...

We've run into the same problem in our family. They need to know who St. Nicholas really is. His story is much more compelling than the fantasy the evil one would rather you to know about.

kateo said...

Heh Tom ~ great article! I have often thought it a grave injustice to poor St. Nicholas that so many are unaware of his story - his generosity and concern for the poor through his gift-giving - and instead all the virtues of kindness and love he showed to the poor children is given to a mythical figure in a red suit. There is nothing of Christ in Santa Claus - but St. Nicholas's heart was filled with the love of Christ. I think a novena to St. Nicholas in honor of his living the true meaning of giving to those in need will surely help us all to become more Christ like in our gift giving ~ and less 'robotic' in our reason for giving gifts in the first place. St. Nicholas, pray for us!

Anonymous said...

Well done, Tom. The trouble is convincing family members.

Tom O'Toole said...

@Anon 5:56 -- Thanks. No doubt a great topic for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinner -- if you don't want to be invited back next year, that is!

rockyfort said...

Love the article! We never tried to sell the kids about Santa because of this concern. We did tell them about other parents playing make believe so they couldn't tell other kids. Interestingly enough, later in life, they wanted to pretend about Santa...but they knew the truth that Christmas was about Jesus. (And I am also a Protestant.)

Tom O'Toole said...

@rockyfort -- Does that mean your children are telling their children to believe in Santa? Does the minister in your church support your view?

Thanks for writing.