It’s about that time of year when all kids thoughts turn to Santa Claus.
My daughter quit believing in Santa Claus two years ago. This year she, I think, is in transition, both grieving the loss of the childhood belief and developing a larger understanding of what, and who, Santa Claus really is. She doesn’t “believe” anymore, but she sees the joy of keeping Santa alive in the eyes of children younger than her. She is turning from a pure recipient of Santa to a participant in Santa Claus and all he stands for.
The skeptics would say that she is complicit in telling the same lies that were told to her, but I beg to differ.
Any parent knows how to make food developmentally appropriate for their children. We heat it just right, chop into easy pieces, cut the crusts off, put the milk in a spill-proof cup. To set a toddler down in front of an adult plate of food would be frustrating, messy, and most likely dangerous. So it is with adult ideas; we chop them down to size and cut the crusts off. There’s no “lie” in making ideas easily digestible for children.
Here’s where there is a lot of similarity in the development of our beliefs in Santa Claus and our belief in God. They definitely start out as simplistic, magical, parent-like concepts, but considering where young kids are coming from, this is how they can best relate. Parents are their world — care giver, law giver, posessed with (to them) unimaginable powers.
Of course, they grow up and those concepts change. Or at least they should. Parents become mere people. Santa, as you find out, was always “just” your loved ones who worked to keep the Christmas magic alive for you.
The big difference is that, while very few people persist into adulthood believing in the Childhood Santa, many — I’d guess the majority — of people cling to their concept of the Childhood God well into adulthood. Or they conclude that since the Childhood God is not the real God after all, God must not exist. Or, worst of all, they hate, persecute, and even kill those who threaten the childhood concept they are so desperate to hold onto.
As a parent, I still believe in Santa Claus. I am Santa Claus to those around me. Santa Claus is within me. Santa Claus is much, much bigger than me. And I get the simultaneous joy of introducing one child to the simplistic, “crusts-cut-off” Santa while I help another discover the bigger, much richer world of Christmas beyond the Childhood Santa.
Same goes, as it is turning out, for our family’s faith in God.