Friday, March 02, 2007

Thoughts of Christmas in March

In the words of Hayley Mills, "I just had a scathingly brilliant idea."
This really has nothing to do with any recent drama, but I wanted to put the thought down before I forgot it. And, many great ideas start off with, "Well...I was in the shower thinkin' about Santa Claus..."

Well, I was in the shower, thinking about about Santa. I was thinking of the fact that I've always felt it incredibly rude, to the child, to get them hyped up about something that's purely a product of the parent's imagination. It's, like religion, setting them up for a fall. Those thoughts lead me to ask, "Self... why do you do that?" The answer was, "...because I want the kids to learn about the concept of doing something fun for someone celebrating childhood." Ok- so, to my "scathingly brilliant" idea (that I'm sure someone else has thought of): If I'm honest that I celebrate Christmas to teach my children to give, then why am *I* Santa? Why don't Mr. Possum and I let each of our children draw a name of a sibling and have THEM be Santa? Mr. Possum and I buy them gifts "from, Mom and Dad" anyway. So...why Santa? Why not have them play Santa for each other? Give them a budget and a name,..let em' go. It's the perfect opportunity for them to get to know their siblings better and learn about gracious giving.

And, yes...we already do charitable activities during the holidays. This is just something I'm chewing on to take the lie out of Santa. I've always hated the "Santa is watching you." threat. It's too close to "God is watching you!" But, if you flip the script- Santa (a child) really could be watching another child...not in an effort to catch them in a naughty act, but in an effort to discover what they really, really want for Christmas.


Darwinator said...

Go for it PMomma. It's a more honest way to do things. You're not really denying them anything either. Except, obviously, for the lies.

I know of another family doing the same thing you are. Their kids are too young to know how it will all turn out yet. I know their biggest concern is how their kids will interact with other kids. Whether they'll "spoil" it for others.

Good luck :)

nowoo said...

The one useful thing about the whole Santa mythology for me is that it makes a really good analogy for how I became an atheist.

I can explain to my Christian friends that I didn't exactly choose to become an atheist in the same way kids don't really choose to stop believing in Santa at a certain age.

Also, for the same reason that adults can't make themselves honestly believe in Santa once they know the truth, I couldn't force myself to believe in a deity even if I wanted to.

Anonymous said...

Interesting -- like a secret Santa sort of thing?

I told my kids Santa was a story, went through a couple of books with variations on the Kris Kringle story up through the modern Santa Claus. This is the same model I use for religion/god in general where I break out the Greek myths early on and use that as a starting point for the myths of all religions. I think it's important to keep current religions at the same level of emphasis as Santa Claus, Zeus, etc. :-)

I went though an experience similar to Nowoo's where one of the reasons I'm an atheist was realizing my parents lied about Santa, and Santa doesn't actually make any sense anyway, so when this god thing came around it was a lot easier not to believe in it.


Anonymous said...

Interesting -- like a secret Santa sort of thing?

Yeah. Sort of. :)
I actually talked to Possums 1 and 2 about it and they thought it was a great idea. They enjoy playing Santa for the younger ones. And, I think Possum 3 is old enough to understand the principle(s). P#4 is still pretty young, but I can sub-in or guide him for the immediate future. I think it might help us refocus a bit, too. As much as we try not to, we get caught up in the "here's my amazon wish list... we'll just shop off that." P#2 said it's no fun to no what you're getting for sure. So--- this just might turn into an interesting approach. :)

Sarah said...

With all this talk about Santa, I thought you might enjoy how this family deals with it.
I think learning the truth about Santa was instrumental in my own 'enlightenment' as well. It's nice to have a way to deal with it, enjoy it, and learn from it that doesn't involve lying.

shaun said...

It's amazing to me how much I didn't grasp the parallels of Santa and God until well into my 20s. Pretty sad.

I've always hated the "Santa is watching you." threat. It's too close to "God is watching you!"

Seriously. The threat of the divine (and make no mistake, to children, Santa is MAGIC!) is a cruel, cruel form of punishment.

Nerdbeard said...

I think I understand your point of view, P-Momma, but I don't think the gift tradition is a net gain in terms of instilling values no matter how you approach it. My friends and family largely respect my wishes, and don't buy gifts for me. If I absolutely cannot convince someone to give me a pass, my guilt doesn't allow me to completely snub their gesture. I make donations to appropriate charities in the names of these people and give them a card including the letter of thanks, and ask that they do the same. (They rarely do.)

Jen said...

Interesting. I recently had some of the same thoughts myself (they were of the abstract variety, since I'm not yet a parent myself), and wrote a blog about it. I stated that I see the value of sharing the Santa story as just that--a fun story--but that to try to pretend he's actually real is a disservice to kids. I asked for opinions of parents and non-parents.

Strangely, the foremost opinion seemed to be that it was "sad" that I would "deny" my kids the magic of Santa. And this was coming from agnostics and supposed critical thinkers! They accused me of trying to turn my hypothetical four year old kids into boring reality-based critical thinkers, and thus somehow robbing them of the magic and fantasy of being children.

I had a hard time understanding how not telling my kids a specific cultural myth as truth was robbing them of their childhood.

Oh, the other reason they gave was, "But it's just so useful in discipline!" Then they issued the tried and true, unassailable "You can't understand until you're a parent." Oh, I love that's almost as fun to hide behind as "You have no right to question my religion because it's based on faith." (To be fair, I do realize there are some things that truly can't be understood until you're a parent, but I think this excuse is trotted out a little bit more often than it should be, and usually as a way to avoid having to critically think about certain decisions).

Carlie said...

I always liked the explanation of Santa in the Little House on the Prairie books, hokey as that is. The mom explains that Santa is the result of what happens when everyone is unselfish and wishes for good things for others. We did the Santa thing with my kids, and I think this will be the last year (they're already older than they should be, which worries me regarding their critical thinking skills). I plan on telling them that Santa is the way to be kind to other people without them knowing who did it, similar to what you said.
What I really hope is that it's immediately followed by wondering if God is real, although that will be a tricky one to navigate given that my husband is a die-hard Christian. Um.

Jen said...

Ooo, good luck with that one, Carlie. ;)

I've always been curious about how people of two different religions can coexist in marriage, especially when it is the difference of religion vs. non-religion. I dated a super-Christian guy for a couple years in college, but he and his family proved more than I could take. I did love him, to the point where I considered marriage, but in the end I couldn't imagine spending my life with someone who could compartmentalize his thinking to such a degree. And it made me worry about disagreements that might come later down the line, especially when it came to kids. We broke up for other reasons in addition to the religious ones, but looking back I see that as being the major devisive factor between us in the long run.

So I highly admire, and have to confess I'm hugely curious about, those who are able to make it work.

Carlie said...

The short answer is that it's a recent development, and not working terribly well. We were both pretty hard-core fundamentalists when we got married, and I'm the one who drifted.
All in all, it doesn't look good.

Anonymous said...

I don't envy what you're facing.
I used to think it was luck, or fate, whatever, that led me to my husband. It wasn't until about three years ago that I realized that I had been looking for someone who would be okay with me leaving the Church. It was all subtle, on my part, and on his, but... when we finally talked about it, several years after getting married, we were both able to admit that we chose the other because of the ability to question religion. I had been with someone who was VERY dogmatic before and I was miserable. Same for him. So, I say that all to say, "I can't imagine what you're dealing with."

My husband is not an atheist. I don't know what he is, really. Probably a religious apathist would be the best label, but... he's man enough to tell our kids that he just doesn't care all that much about religion. For him, it's a non-issue and he's perfectly content to let me study, think, and posit.
Hang in there... and, definitely, have a discussion before the children come along.

Anonymous said...


I went through the same thing you're going through. My wife was a diehard Catholic with all the trimmings. So the issue of how our children would be raised was an interesting one. However, there's one thing you have to keep in the forefront of your mind at all times. If your kids turned out like your husband (who you loved enough to marry), would that be the worst thing in the world? If my children turned out to be exactly like my wife, then I'd be overjoyed. It's pretty hard to complain when your "failure" outcome is so wonderful.

That being said, I extracted an agreement from my wife that we'd always answer our kids questions honestly. Always. We had to be up front about our doubts and the gaps in our understanding. We couldn't claim to be certain of things we aren't certain of. She was fine with that. In fact, that actually led us to a Santa-Free househould.

Incidentally, after many years of marriage, she recently described herself as a "closet atheist". I nearly fell off my chair.

Just keep the dialog open and non-threatening. Ask your husband if he'd be satisfied if the kids turned out like you. I'm guessing he'd be overjoyed.

Good luck.

Theo Bromine said...

My "kids" are now in their 20s, and my husband and I are now atheists. When the kids were young, we were (liberal) Christians, but strongly opposed to the Santa charade - we were very disturbed by the insistence of some parents that their children *must* believe that Santa is real (we had a number of reasons for this, but it was primarily because we considered it very important that parents should not knowingly lie to their children). From the outset, we told our kids that Santa Claus was a pretend part of Christmas (similarly for the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy). (Lest anyone suggest that this took the "magic" out of their childhood, on the contrary, since it was always acknowledged as "pretend", it can last much longer - my 19-year-old at university got a bag of chocolate eggs from some anonymous source - it must have been the Easter Bunny :).

With respect to "spoiling" Santa-belief for other kids: There were a few awkward moments when my rationalist 6-year-old was attempting myth-debunking. We explained to them that their friends (and their friends' parents) would be sad if they knew Santa was just pretend, so they should not discuss it.

One of the things that bothers me most about mainstream society's attitude to Santa Claus is the huge psychological investment that some adults have in having their children or grandchildren believe. I know of a few cases where the kids have given up believing in Santa, but won't let on to their parents.

Carlie said...

Thanks for the kind words. My kids have already noticed that I'm not thrilled any more at going to church on Sunday (did I mention that I'm their Sunday School teacher and the children's church director? I'm in pretty deep. At least this way I control what parts they're learning) Interestingly, one is very authority-centric and believes everything he's told, and one is stubborn and willful and hates church as much as I do. I'm working on the first to be more independent. Husband is trying to be supportive even though he doesn't really like it, but he has to put up with a lot of flak from church people who want to know why I'm not doing *more* than I am, and we haven't even touched the part about what the kids do and don't learn. There are a lot of problems other than the god/atheist dichotomy, but that's the one I think about most on the weekends.

Rachel said...

This is the first comment I've ever left, but I do enjoy your blog, PMomma! I, too, am in a 'mixed marriage. I was more agnostic when I got married and only in the last year or so have fully embraced my athiesm. It feels great, but I am in the closet publicly still. My husband knows, of course, and he mostly tries to avoid the subject. It is sometimes hard for me, too, to reconcile our differences in belief, and I can't be sure how it will turn out for us, either. We agree to disagree, but I find that I have a really tough time finding the respect for him that I should when I consider his belief in the delusions of God, religion, heaven, etc. I can't help but feel like religious = unintelligent. This lack of respect I have for religious types has carried over to other relationships of mine as well, and a couple close firenships have recently become strained. This is the biggest struggle I experience as an atheist.

My husband takes our oldest daughter (age 7) to church occasionally, but I make sure to answer her questions honestly and to tell her that not everyone - especially me - believes these 'stories' to be true. She has admitted to me a belief in God and heaven *wince* but is very skeptical about the tooth fairy, and, increasingly, Santa. Maybe there's hope for her still?

Terra said...

Wow. Carlie and Rachel and anyone else living in a "mixed" relationship. Wow. I've never understood how you can make it work, even though one of our closest couple friends is: Wife- a Russian orthodox something (goes to church on Sunday-every Sunday- for hours, speaking in tongues, the whole nine...) and husband- always says stuff like, "Well, you know I've got Sunday to do whatever I like!" It's the most amazing thing to me.

Carlie said...

Rachel, it does suck, doesn't it? Sorry to hear you're going through it too. I sometimes think that no one should be allowed to get married before at least 30, preferably a little older, so all their ideas are already set and you really know what you're getting into.

Anonymous said...

Rachel and Carlie,

I apologize if I'm beating a dead horse here, but my situation was very similar to yours and I was able to navigate it successfully. Hopefully whatever babble I have to give might be able to help you.

Rachel, the mistake you're making is to get stuck on "religion = unintelligent". My wife is smarter than I am and still believes in god. It doesn't make her stupid. It makes her someone that grew up with very religious parents. It makes her someone who went to Church every week. It makes her someone who went to Catholic grade school, high school and a Catholic College.

But here's the thing; she's a wonderful, wonderful person. If I can't get through to her on the atheism topic, it doesn't really matter. She loves me and thinks I'm a great person. In fact, being married to me has taught her about atheism. I think she understands it now. She's not an atheist yet, but who knows?

Ultimately, because we're able to talk about it, our relationship is stronger than I could've imagined possible. I don't worry at all about my kids becoming atheists. I'm 100% certain that it will happen. In fact, I told my wife that as long as I'm allowed to answer the kids' questions honestly, she can send them to a Catholic school if she likes. Seemingly they'd get a better education there than at a public school. As long as there's a break from the brainwashing while they're still young, I'm confident they'll have enough questions to get them through. Anyway, if they were to become religious and turn out like my wife, I'd be absolutely overjoyed.

I guess I'm not seeing where the angst in your situations is coming from. Maybe the relationship isn't what you thought it would be. Maybe your husbands aren't as smart (excluding religious questions) as you thought they were before you got married.

If you love these guys, I can't see why religion matters.

Carlie said...

Still hijacking the thread (sorry P-momma!)

The biggest problem I have with everyone else in the family still in religion is that I'm an evolutionary biologist, and the denomination we have is very dead-set against it, as in to the point of having sermons about the evils of science and how wrong it all is. That makes it a lot more personal to me than just what someone else in the family believes. Also, I was forcibly scared out of my mind about being good and hell and all when I was younger, and I don't want my kids to have that same kind of what I now look back and think of as mental abuse. Makes it all more difficult!

Rachel said...

Thanks, "anonymous", for your encouragement. You are right. I AM stuck on the religious = unintelligent thing, I'm just not sure how to get un-stuck. I'm working on it, but like I said, it's a struggle.

Carlie, yes, it sure does suck! I feel like my situation isn't half as bad as yours, though, with the church/sunday school and your job! You're an evolutionary biologist? How fascinating! I could go on asking you questions for ages! But doesn't the congregation know what you do? I don't understand how you got in this situation. I don't attend church, and I would be willing to discuss my non-belief if it came up. I just never have referred to myself, to most, as an atheist. We all know the image people have in their head of an atheitst. I think marriage-wise, I would have been well-served by waiting til 30. But if I was smart enough to know that then...
Well, I am trying to come to terms with our differences and to embrace the positive, and to be more tolerant. In other words, make the best of the situation. It's hard for me to not get caught up in the 'atheist agenda' that I'd like to have, but am putting off until mommy-ing isn't as much of a full-time job for me...

Carlie said...

Rachel - feel free to email me at paleomom2(at)yahoo(dot)com if you want to talk more about it.

(can you believe "paleomom" was already taken and I had to be the second?)

In other semi-thread related news, I had to leave money from the tooth fairy last night. Sigh.