We’re coming up on our sixth Christmas as parents. That’s not a huge sample size, statistically speaking, but we’ve had half a dozen opportunities so far to navigate the waters of holiday traditions and festive trappings.
I am unabashedly pro-Santa. Because it’s the way I was raised and because I just love a good story. I love Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. In grade school I was fascinated by Greek and Roman mythology, and by Aesop’s fables and the Brothers Grimm. I love the capacity of the human imagination, and I love fostering that sense of wonder in our children.
And I want to do it in a way that neither conflicts with nor does harm to their faith.
I firmly believe it’s possible, and in fact I would go further and say that a healthy, properly developed imagination is an essential component to a life of faith, regardless of whether you decide to bring Santa into the mix. Our imaginations are where we encounter what is not physically, tangibly present to us, whether it be a concept, a virtue, or a Person. This is not the same thing as saying that these concepts themselves are “imaginary,” rather that we encounter them there, in that part of ourselves capable of seeing with the eyes of faith.
I’ve heard the argument made against Santa that children who are told stories of him will lose their faith in Christ, who will also become suspect as a construct of mom and dad’s imagination, or the Church’s. And I think there is some validity to the concern, but I also think 19th century parents might have laughed at us for overthinking it so hard.
Every culture has myths, legends, and stories. They sustain our collective identity, they pass on our values and communicate our priorities. And they make real and accessible concepts that are immaterial and ethereal.
It helps Santa’s cause, in my view, that he actually takes his roots from a real person – an actual saint in heaven who we venerate and entrust with our prayers – however fantastical some of the details may have become. So we read stories about elves and reindeers as they come up in the picture books, and I don’t stop and point out to the kids that “IT’S ALL A FARCE, DON’T BE FOOLED,” lest I be called a lying mommy. Because I don’t do it when we read fairy tales, either. Or tales of knights and dragons and little mice who talk, or Jedi who swing lightsabers and talk to aliens.
Children need to develop a healthy and robust imagination, and for our family, part of feeding that imagination looks like yes, writing letters to Santa. Talking about how St. Nicholas loves baby Jesus so much that he helps mommy and daddy give us gifts to celebrate His birth.
Someday they’ll make the distinction that Santa in the red suit probably isn’t the most accurate depiction of the bishop of ancient Myra, but I don’t feel the need to spell that out for them. The six-year-old, in fact, is already starting to figure things out. And that’s okay. But what he doesn’t need to know, at six, is that the world is falsely divided into the material “real” and the immaterial “false.”
It’s actually we grown ups who struggle most with those concepts. And sometimes we’re the ones with the harder time seeing reality as it truly is.
So as for me and my house, we’ll keep reading the night before Christmas, singing songs about reindeer with red noses, and preparing our hearts for the One who is more real than all the stories that have ever been written. Because, after all, all the good ones point to Him, whether or not they intend to.