Adults only

The Santa Controversy

<i>The Passion of the Claus</i> exhibit was installed for one day last Christmas.

The Passion of the Claus exhibit was installed for one day last Christmas.


This will probably be the most controversial Filet of Soul yet, and I’m only writing it at the request of arts editor Brad Bynum and special projects editor Kat Kerlin. OK, maybe it’s not all at their request, as I’ve long had opinions on the topic. But I’ll try to represent Brad’s point of view fairly, since it’s the opposite view to mine.

It’s about Santa Claus, and whether children should be told there’s such a guy.

Brad believes Santa is a part of childhood. He says that even though all children realize, eventually, a little bit each year, that their parents mislead them—if indeed they did—it’s a harmless diversion, both for the parents and the children. It teaches them about whimsy and mystery and develops their sense of wonder.

Problem is he’s wrong.

The question is more immediate for Kat, since she and her husband, Grant, produced the beautiful Lilian Marie Nejedlo earlier this year.

Kat is generally on the fence when it comes to telling children there’s no Santa. I will note that she was generally nodding in the affirmative while I held forth.

So here goes. Christmas, for many children, is one of the most important days of the year. They look forward to it for months. It’s huge in their lives, often bigger than birthdays, because seemingly everybody celebrates it. Every retailer in the country attempts to teach them to want stuff. It’s the one time of year it’s fine to be greedy, to make want lists as long as their attention spans. And Santa Claus is the personification of secular Christmas. Heck, most of them have met him in the mall and told him their most endearing wishes for world peace or for their mommies to get over cancer or for a Tickle Me Elmo.

I think it’s wrong to base any relationship on a lie. If children learn when they’re impressionable that Mom and Dad will lie to them about one of their most important things, why would they believe the parents when they tell them the truth about something of true importance? Why should they believe their parents about powdery white substances or that sex has consequences? They know for a fact that their parents lie.

One more question, appropriate to this column: Why is Santa Claus, who is admittedly a secular personality, an issue of soul?

Santa Claus is a metaphor for a higher power. I don’t claim to speak for any religious point of view, but allow me to illustrate from the Christian point of view—the one I know most about.

Letters to Santa Claus—prayers. The ability to do anything (like cure cancer)—omnipotence. He know when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake—omniscience. Delivers gifts to the entire world overnight—omnipresence. Father Christmas—male. He even looks a bit like the guy presented in art as God, like in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting, the chubby guy on the cloud.

Santa Claus is god-lite. He’s a concept that children get. He trains children in the very idea that there is a god. When the child is a little older and beginning abstract thought, god fits right into the missing jigsaw piece.

When parents teach their children that Santa Claus is real, and then the child realizes Santa Claus is a lie, the child begins to question everything that seems similar. Like when the parent tells the child about powers greater than them.

You want mystery? Talk about dark matter or chaos theory or the concept of eternity.

That’s just me, though. But then, I think Christmas should be celebrated as a religious holiday—if it’s going to be celebrated. And I think that children should be told by their parents that Santa Claus is just a fun story to make people feel good and sell toys.