I’m no Scrooge. I don’t object to draping tinsel, jetting off Christmas e-cards, or singing inane jingles about jingling bells. I trust that my family understands that–pagan roots aside–the plastic conifer in our living room is not a subtle mark of our allegiance to the forces of darkness. It’s just a (model of a) tree.
We do, however, prefer singing “Hark the Herald Angel Sings” over the misdirected praise of “Oh Christmas Tree,” though I’m not even fanatic about enforcing that.
We tolerate the poetic inaccuracy of “We three kings of Orient are” because it rolls off the tongue better than “We indeterminable number of Gentile scholars of Persia are.”
But… I am nervous about the potential confusion which may cloud a four-year-old’s faith in my honesty.
Angels on high, a pregnant virgin, God in a manger, a guiding star… are impossibilities. Yet, “all things are possible with God.” [Yes, you need to believe in the virgin birth to be a Christian] We ask our children to trust us on these claims, with their lives. Then we add a fictitious, omniscient fat guy with a red-nosed reindeer to the mix. At a certain age we matter-of-factly disclose that we were just kidding about the chimney intrusion, the Elven workshop, and the works-based naughty-or-nice judgment. “Those parts are make-believe, the rest is gospel truth. Trust me, son.”
Misinformation has a way of taking root in our memories. Do you picture the stable with oxen lowing on a silent night? Were the angels actually singing? Was there a villainous curmudgeon inn keeper? These details are not found in Scripture.
The popular mythology of Father Christmas, as we call him in Africa, runs parallel to biblical truth in our homes, until it dead-ends in one of the (hopefully) pre-teen years. But has the damage to parental credibility already been done?
A parody of a possible consequence is epitomized by that poor, traumatized kid who laments melodically, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” I doubt therapy was needed for the child to overcome his confusion. But there does exist a subtle long-term danger, namely that of placing impossible fiction on the same shelf as impossible fact, and forcing our children to discern arbitrarily which is which, based on our flip-flopping propositions.
Is it any wonder that adults, who at one time believed their Sunday school teachers, eventually conclude that “The Bible sounds like a fairy tale”? These skeptics were expected to outgrow some of what they were taught by their parents. Why not more of it? Why not all that sounds impossible?
I never want my children to have this existential monologue in junior high: “Daddy told me about a six day creation, virgin birth, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, angels, and fairies. Then he said he was only joking about half the stuff. I felt gullible for falling for it. Mmm. I wonder if my science teacher is right about Evolution? What other nonsense has been fed to me as fact?”
So what do I tell my children when they see other kids queueing to meet one of the ubiquitous middle-aged, overweight men with fake beards offering a lap and a promise of gifts? I tell them the truth: “Look, it’s a pretend Santa! How fun.” This will be in the context of the conversation we would have had, where I explained that part of Christmas fun is pretending there is a man who lives in the North Pole and gives presents. I’ll also tell them about the real Nicholas who ministered in Turkey. Pretending can still be fun. I love fiction and imagination. I offer them Narnia too. But there is a thin line between fiction and fallacy.
I want my children to grow up knowing that their dad never, ever lies to them. About anything. This may lead to some awkward moments in life, like a premature discussion about where babies come from. But surely adding a stork to the catalogue of misinformation can’t be a better tactic than opting for truth in every situation.
The precious attributes of God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, are grotesquely caricatured by Santa-lore. Consider the lyrics that describe what our children think of this demagogue: “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”
I’m interested to hear your views. In the meantime, I have a nativity set to go re-arrange (the indeterminable scholars from Persia will only arrive in two years time, and they’ll show up at the “house” not the stable). Another bubble burst in the battle for truth; a small price to pay for not abusing the unwavering trust my children have in their dad.
What do you think, am I going too far?