Ah, the lengths to which we go to preserve the illusions of childhood.
Two weeks before Easter, they wrote a letter to the Easter Bunny to tell him we weren’t going to be at home, but at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. On Holy Saturday at bedtime, Christian took Alex over to the table where the baskets stood ready for the great rodent, and solemnly laid out a plate of carrots and lettuce leaves. And I thought, Oh, my goodness. Are we not taking this a wee bit too far?
After all, when you lay the plate of cookies out at Christmas, at least they get eaten! Holy Saturday night at 11p.m. when we finished watching Joan of Arc with my in-laws, I had to put all that roughage back in the refrigerator before I could go to bed.
But really, I think the thing that worries me most is this: we spend all this energy trying to make these two holidays magical for the children by building up these completely fictional characters—characters they can’t see, but in whose existence they are expected to believe (do you see where I’m going with this?). And then at some point, we have to yank that rug out from under them and say, “No, it’s actually Mom andDadwho buy your Christmas presents and your Easter candy.”
And how do we explain God? Yes—as someone they can’t see, but in whose existence they are expected to believe.
Children believe because they’re wired to believe. But when confronted with the (let’s call a spade a spade) institutional lies about Santa and the Easter Bunny, is it not inevitable that someday they’ll also doubt the more important questions of belief?
I lost my belief in Santa early—first grade, perhaps second. A classmate came up to me and asked, in the low voice of someone telling a sordid secret, did I know that Santa wasn’t real? Not wanting to look like the fool, I said, “Of course.” And I went home and asked my mom.
But see, it didn’t bother me. Because it made sense. Santa didn’t bring us very much, anyway, not by comparison to my classmates. Realizing that my parents were Santa made the whole thing clear. Even at six, I knew that farmers had no money. All my classmate’s revelation did was help me organize the holiday around its real meaning instead of a quest for loot.
As for the Easter bunny, I don’t remember ever actually believing in the Easter bunny. I’m sure I must have, but perhaps I generalized the Santa lesson instantly.
So, with my own experience in mind, perhaps I’m worrying unnecessarily. After all, there’s more evidence of God than there is of the Easter Bunny: I can point to the presence of God in the world around us, in the way we love each other and the beauty of Creation.
On the other hand, loot is pretty convincing. Probably more convincing than beautiful flowers and the glory of nature.
And we have not exercised the same restraint in gift-giving that my parents did out of sheer necessity.
So…perspectives? Did losing faith in Santa and the Easter Bunny (and the tooth fairy, and whatever other loot-bringers I’m overlooking right now) have any impact at all on your faith? Am I overreacting? How do (or did) you handle this with your children?
When I was little, my friend got gobs of things for christmas. I got a second hand doll. I remember being very sad and confused because I just didn’t know what I did to make Santa not like me. When my mom told me there wasn’t a Santa, I think I must have been relieved but I do remember that I also felt like a fool. I told my children that it is fun to pretend there’s a Santa and that’s what we did. I don’t remember being confused about my faith until high school. Even now, sometimes I believe with all my heart. Sometimes I think it just can’t be true. Sometimes I just have to pretend and hope.
I’m the oldest of five, and we moved around a lot–Air Force dad, so no older cousins or folks we’d known forever to prematurely inform me–and my parents always got a friend they knew and we didn’t to come play Santa on Christmas Eve so that presents were out of the way well before morning mass. I was in fourth grade when the teacher told the class that there was no Santa, and of course I figured out that the rest wasn’t true either.
With my older kids Santa would come to my parents’ house on Christmas Eve. My autistic son was in fifth grade, and his sister in second when we decided it had to come to an end. He had no doubt and was talking about Santa and adding details and we were just afraid that he would be laughed at so that year Dad put on the suit and the kids didn’t seem too traumatized by it. The suit was a victim of Katrina and now my kids have a cousin two years younger than my baby,and his parents want Santa to leave stuff at their house, so Santa has started to leave stuff here (and we aren’t as apt to spend the night at my Dad’s anymore). It will be interesting to see how long this lasts. I know I taught 3rd grade CCD for years and most of the time those kids made it a point to tell me what their parents were giving them for Christmas (as opposed to Santa)
My parents were always quite honest with us. I’m from Belgium, so we do have some different traditions than in the US. For example, though there are presents on Christmas Day, they aren’t brought by Santa. We do celebrate Saint Nicholas on December 6th (it’s a very big celebration in Belgium, you can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas). Anyway, as I said, my parents did say Saint Nicholas brought presents, but they always told the story of the Saint too. It just went gradually. When we were about four years old, they would tell us the Saint lived a long time ago and the ones we saw were people acting like Saint Nick. The next year, they would say that they actually took care of the presents etc. It went gradually so we were never traumatized or anything. Saint Nicholas still brings us chocolate, sweets and fruit (presents stopped when we were about 14 years old, as it’s a children’s feast).
Easter eggs weren’t brought by the bunny, but by the clocks from Rome. Every year on Good Friday, the clocks flew to Rome, there they loaded up on eggs and they came back on Easter Sunday. My parents told us why the clocks were silent for two days and why they made so much noise on Easter (we have lots and lots of churches in our tiny city, so you can imagine Easter Sunday!). By the time we were five or six, we knew clocks couldn’t fly to Rome and drop eggs. Easter eggs were hidden untill we were about 16. What can I say, we’re big on traditions! No presents on Easter though, sometimes we got small trinkets.
And ofcourse, this year Easter was very well celebrated, with two wonderful parties and lots of presents for me!
I guess my parents never outright lied, but they did tell the traditional stories. And they kept telling the stories and keeping the traditions, even after we knew they were just that. I guess that helps a lot for small children, that it doesn’t just end.
I love hearing your varied perspectives. I’m not hearing from the “there’s nothing wrong with Santa!” crowd. Maybe I have to ask my husband to weigh in!!! Dottie, as usual I LOVE hearing your thoughts. I wonder if my husband would go for “it’s fun to pretend there’s a Santa”? (I’m guessing not. LOL)
When I was 6 I walked into my friend’s house and caught my friend’s mom wrapping the Christmas presents for him. Went home and told my mom and that’s when I realized there was no Santa.
Fast forward to now: Andrew has always known that there’s no Easter Bunny or Santa. I wanted to be honest from the beginning and keep the focus on the spiritual. We pretend to believe and have fun with it, but that’s it.
Growing up I saw Santa and the Easter Bunny completely outside my Faith. When I learned about St. Nicholas I was delighted. The candy on Easter was a big deal, but God has always been the believable Father, Jesus the Son who died for me, and the Holy Spirit the mysterious bestower of gifts and fruits. I think if kids have a good grounding in their faith they aren’t likely to engage in false logic. Let them enjoy the make-believe. The world becomes too cruel too soon.
Thanks to you both. Carol, I’ve often thought about doing that same thing–as Dottie said, too. Somehow I don’t think my husband will go for it. I imagine if it’s been this way for decades, generations, it probably isn’t worth worrying about. 🙂
I am one of the “there is nothing wrong with Santa” crowd. I agree with Barb. Kids are kids for such a short time. Let them believe in all the magic of Santa. Why do we grownups always want to spoil childhood? It never affected my faith because I saw Santa as someone who also believed in God and that is why he loved to give presents on Christmas. When I found out he wasn’t real, I was disappointed, but I was glad I had those years when I believed. They were fun.