Monday, November 27, 2006

Discipleship v. Santa Claus

Children have an incredible knack of getting to the heart of a matter via their innocence and naivete. A recent exchange between my wife and our 6 year old daughter, who has a sweet, giving heart, provided a stark example of this.

We buy few toys for our daughter, but being the only young child on both sides of the family, birthday and holidays amass more than she can use despite our exhortations to relatives to go extremely light. My wife was cleaning out toys, games, etc. that are cluttering up our house and that our daughter rarely plays with. The idea was to give them away. As is natural with a child, Maria did not want to part with things once she saw them, not selfishly, but they suddenly held new interest. Below is a paraphrase of the interchange.

But momma, I don't want to give that away (repeat multiple times).

Well honey, you don't use these very often and you have more than you need. We can give these to poor children who won't get much, if anything, for Christmas.

You mean Santa Claus doesn't visit poor children? (First, sobering moment!) they might not get as much as you do. (Hagrid quote at this point: "Ooops, I shouldna oughta sad dat)

But why? Santa brings me four or five things. Do they only get one? (Second sobering moment)

Please bear in mind that my wife was busy in the task, was not attempting to analyze nuance of any of her words, nor attempting to anticipate the probing mind of a young child. She did not see the turn of conversation coming.

There are many explanations a parent could concoct, especially in hindsight. The best of which might be to say Santa and Christ want us to have the their spirit and help Santa at Christmas. However, it does not matter what explanation you use, it does not address the underlying issue.

The young child has recognized an inequality created by man that cannot be reconciled with man's benevolent icons. And the result is a loss of innocence. I was very tempted to tell her the truth about Christmas and Santa Claus, running the risk that she become a pariah among her classmates and the children's ministry as she blasts the unholy news.

But this does not solve the problem. When she discovers that this is not a Santa Claus issue, her immediate leap will be to ask why does God let poor people suffer.

The interchange shows the dilemmas Christians create by combining secular idealism and Christianity (the spirit of Santa Claus, celebration of Christmas combined with Christ). We create paradoxes, as if our faith did not have enough to deal with.

It also is an inevitable occurance of having the innocence of a child who loves God slowly chipped away as they confront a broken world. This is one of the toughest challenges parents face, and we make it harder on ourselves with the idealic myths we have created and perpetuate.

Any insight from my readers is greatly appreciated.


jettybetty said...

Your little girl is growing up!!

We have created a monster with Santa and Christ in Christmas--it probably started innocently enough--and it has gotten out of control!

From the bit I know you and A., I believe you are living out just what M needs to see.

Have fun with *Santa* while you can (someone will probably "tell" her soon anyway)--but keep living like it's all about Jesus.

Tony Arnold said...

Thanks JB. I know you have much experience in these areas.


jettybetty said...

I do believe that our children are one way God keeps us on our knees. I know my mom is still there for me--and I am most definitely there for our 3. I am so thankful I have that outlet--and trust He is faithful.

Phil said...

I read an interview in the Nashville Scene about 10 years ago with a Rabbi who said he was glad they didn't have Christmas because when children stopped believing in Santa, it was much easier for them to take the next step to not believing in God.

I think it's good that Maria is recognizing the inequity between the classes. It heightens the possibility that she will be one of the people that will try and do something about it.

Tony Arnold said...

Thanks for that bit of encouragement Phil. That is a great way of looking at it. Now if I can just stay out of God's way and let Him work on her, all will be well.

Through our concern for Maria, Anita and I are ever more attuned to avoiding materialism at all costs (pun intended).


JMG said...

I actually thought about you and your family the other day, wondering how you will handle the whole Christmas/Santa thing. My parents never had me believing in Santa Claus. They said it was a story, and that Mom and Dad are Santa. I'm not sure why I didn't go around sharing this knowledge unless it was because I liked knowing something that the other kids didn't know. I think it made me feel "smart" somehow.

On another note, I knew a preacher who, upon the occasion of his kids finding out there was no Santa, was asked, "Why did you lie to us?" It created a tense moment.

The question of why does God lets poor people suffer could be answered by saying that God made it our jobs to make sure that the poor people that we know do not suffer, and regrettably, some people do not do their jobs very well.

Kevin B. said...

Teach her about St. Nicholas instead of "Santa Claus." We have four children, the oldest 6, and none of them believe in Santa. They all believe in St. Nick, and the love that he showed, and in the possibility of expressing that love from their own hearts. Christmas becomes, rather than a consumer's delight, the birthday of Christ, and he receives gifts from us inasmuch as we give them to the poor.