Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Tis the Season for the Santa Debate

A few years ago, when my siblings and I were starting to have kids, we were talking together about what we would tell our kids about Santa. We all had fond memories of the magic of Christmas morning, waking up to a bulging stocking and a tree littered with presents. We remembered outgrowing the myth, but still enjoying the traditions, first for the sake of our little brother who still believed, and later, just for the joy of it.

We discussed all of the major arguments that are put forward in defense of telling your kids Santa isn't real. Personally, I think, "If I'm going to spend all this money on gifts, I want to get the credit for it," is the weakest reason out there. You should never give gifts to get credit. You should give gifts for the benefit of the recipient, and if they will enjoy the gift more if it comes wrapped in magic, isn't that what matters most? The joy THEY derive from receiving the gift?

To me, the most compelling argument is, "We teach our children not to lie, so we shouldn't lie to them." It makes sense. How can we willingly deceive our kids? And, as a Christian, there is the added, "If we lie to them about Santa, they will think we lied to them about Jesus."

But all three of us grew up believing in Santa, and while we outgrew the Santa myth, all three of us are Christians today. I really don't think being "lied" to as a child shaped our adult belief in Jesus. Really, parents, do you want your kids to believe in Jesus just because you said so? That's a pretty weak basis for faith. Kids will, and should, scrutinize everything you told them as they grew up, and choose to accept or reject your faith on their own terms. The important thing to teach your kids is not facts, but critical thinking.

And then there's the problem of fiction. If we want our kids to grow up only believing true things, do we keep all fiction out of the house? I believed that TV characters were real, does that mean my parents lied to me by letting me watch Sesame Street? Shall we ban theater, like the puritans? There has to be room for fiction, even in the Christian life. Jesus told parables, and while they rang true and demonstrated truths, they probably weren't factually true. Jesus kept secrets, too. In the Bible, he often leaves things hanging, or answers with a question, or flat out says, "You won't understand. Ask me when you're older." (Okay, maybe I'm paraphrasing a bit.)

Our dad "lied" to us all the time. He told wild stories that we knew contained only a seed of truth, but we enjoyed them anyway. And it never affected our ability to trust him with our lives. Part of the joy of fiction and fantasy is the suspension of disbelief. You have to believe that dragons exist and dogs can talk and horses can fly. Otherwise the stories are just dumb. With no fantasy in our lives, we end up like the little girl in Miracle on 34th Street, whose mother refused to "lie" to her, and she ended up having no wonderment, no belief in magic, no childhood, really. Even without the "Wow, he really was Santa," conclusion, I still feel bad for her. Shouldn't kids, I don't know, get to be kids?

Even my mom, the most honest person we know, so honest that if she accidentally told people that her newest grandchild weighed 8lbs5oz instead of 8lbs4oz, she would call everyone back and apologize profusely, even SHE lied to us about Santa growing up. That's when my mom jumped into the conversation from the other room. She had NEVER lied to us about Santa! NEVER! But what about the Santa presents? There were always presents from Mom and Dad, but there were also presents from Santa. Wasn't writing "From Santa" on the label lying? Nope, she never wrote anything on them, "Santa" presents were unlabeled, we just assumed they were from Santa. But what about that time I asked how Santa could get into our house without a chimney, and you gave that really great explanation about being able to shrink down small enough to fit into any crack, even a keyhole? Nope, all she did was ask me how I thought he did it, and I came up with that ridiculous explanation all on my own.

We all sat in stunned silence as we processed this. We thought back over our childhood, and all the subtle assumptions our mother had allowed us to believe, but that we really had made ourselves believe. That note from the tooth fairy that wasn't signed. The time I woke up and caught my mom hiding my Easter basket, and she said nothing, but I decided the Easter Bunny was running late that year, and just dropped the baskets off with parents. Honestly, I think our belief in the myths was stronger because we had been allowed to defend them to ourselves. It's easier to pick apart other people's arguments than your own.

The thing is, none of us cared if we had been lied to about Santa. We were mostly just surprised that we hadn't been lied to, since our belief was so strong.

Something I've come to realize about childhood fantasies, at least about mine, is that kids "know" on some level that they are participating in a fantasy. In the same way that kids can believe in their imaginary friends even though they "know" they aren't real because they made them up. It doesn't stop them from believing it with all their hearts, but when they outgrow the myth, when they are ready to stop believing, it usually is with a bit of a shrug and an "I kinda knew all along." Adults bending over backwards to try and convince them that Santa is real, or to protect them from finding out the devastating truth, is just confusing to kids. We don't need to make up midi-chlorians when the Force is enough. I think it's those kids who end up bitter and angry when they find out that they had been lied to about Santa. Adults being so passionately on board with the Santa myth makes them wonder if maybe it does belong in the realm of non-fantasy. But eventually, someone will slip up, and those kids will feel betrayed.

So, in the Great Santa Debate, I am advocating a middle ground: passive non-resistance. The Santa advocates want their kids to have magic in their lives, and the no-Santa advocates don't want to deceive their kids; this is the best of both worlds. When Valerie asks me general questions about Santa, like "Who pulls Santa's sleigh?" I will happily tell her everything I know about the myth, in the same way that I will happily answer questions about other works of fiction without having to explain, "You know, sweetie, Big Bird isn't real." But if she asks me practical application questions, like "How will Santa get into our house without a chimney?" I will defer to her much more vast imagination. (The in-between grey areas, like "How does Santa manage to visit every child in the world in one night?" I don't mind answering "Magic.") And if she asks me why we celebrate Christmas, I will tell her the story of God becoming man, and being born in a manger. As she grows up, she will separate the true stories from the fictional stories, and she will see reflected in my life which ones I believe.

Thanks, mom, for giving me the gift of fantasy, and the gift of a solid Christian role model. And thank you for teaching me the best trick in the parenting book, "That's a good question, what do you think?"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Favorite Lesser Known Christmas Songs

So, we've been listening to B101 for the past two weeks, because they play non-stop Christmas music from Thanksgiving until I get sick of it. I don't listen to it all that often, only in the car or in the shower. Maybe I listen to about 10 hours a week. And yet it seems like I hear some version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town every single time I turn the radio on. And Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer almost as often. I have nothing against these songs, but it would be nice to have a little more variety. From various free and legal download sites, I obtained 13+ hours of Christmas music this year. Sure, my collection includes 8 versions of "O Holy Night" but by and large, I feel like I have more variety on my computer than B101 has in their rotation.

So, if you're getting tired of the same Christmas music, like me, I'd like to recommend a few lesser known Christmas songs that are tucked away in my memory from such places as school choir concerts from my childhood.

This Little Babe

D'ou Viens-Tu Bergère?

Old Toy Trains

The Huron Carol ('Twas in the Moon of Wintertime)

Petit Papa Noel

Hmm, as I compile this list, I realize that I should probably have titled it, "Favorite Canadian Christmas Songs." I guess that explains why I don't hear them on American radio!

Do you have any favorites you'd like to share? I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Living Nativity

We took Valerie to a drive-through living nativity with real animals this weekend. The biggest hit was the camel, but she also caught on that Jesus was a pretty big part of it, too. The last two stations were an empty cross and an empty tomb, in order to complete the story and leave guests with a salvation message. As we were leaving, Valerie asked me where baby Jesus was. A much bigger question than she realized. I decided to review the story with her, from the beginning, thus delaying an attempt at the theological feat of explaining the resurrection in terms she could understand.

"Well, first he was in Mary's tummy, then he was born, and was in the manger, then he was a little boy, and the wise men brought him presents, then..."

"No, he was a little girl!"

I started laughing. Little-boy Jesus had, indeed been played by a little girl. Nothing escapes Valerie's keen eye. She's as literal as her mother ever was.

I gave up on the resurrection explanation for now.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Christmas Cookies


We made and decorated Christmas sugar cookies tonight.

This was a big event for me. One of the things I was most looking forward to about starting a family was doing activities together, and carrying on family traditions. And decorating sugar cookies is one of my fondest memories of a family activity from my childhood. I've been waiting three Christmases for this night.

I wasn't sure whether Valerie would get into it or not, but we've been reading a story about Christmas cookies every night before bed, and she loves it, so I thought we would give it a try. A friend and her daughter came over, and we let the girls stir the ingredients while I measured them into the bowl. Valerie helped roll out the dough, and she helped press down the cookie cutters. Then she got a little too enthusiastic and started overlapping with the cookie cutter, making all kinds of strange and interesting shapes. I baked the wonky shapes anyhow, because they were part of the fun.


Valerie put too many sprinkles on her cookies, and had a great time doing it. I just let her have her fun, and used a paper funnel to put the extra sprinkles back every time she emptied the shaker.


Babies are great and all, but it sure is fun having a kid.


Aunt Betty's Sugar Cookies

This is an inherited recipe from my mom's Aunt Betty. It is my all-time favorite sugar cookie recipe. The dough rolls out beautifully and, best of all, it doesn't require refrigeration.

  • 4 cups flour

  • 1 tsp. baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  • 1 cup shortening

  • 1 cup (heaping) sugar

  • 2 beaten eggs

  • 1 tsp. baking soda

  • 1/3 cup milk

  • 1 tsp. vanilla

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375.

  2. Sift together first 3 ingredients.

  3. Cut shortening into dry ingredients (until mixture resembles small crumbs).

  4. In a separate bowl, beat eggs. Add sugar to eggs and mix well. Stir last three ingredients into the egg mixture. Add to dry ingredients and mix well.

  5. Roll the dough (half at a time) on a lightly floured surface, about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into shapes. Bake for 6-10 minutes until centre bounces back when gently touched (don't let them get brown!).

  6. Allow to cool completely before decorating. Decorate with Icing Sugar Icing, candies and sprinkles.

Icing Sugar Icing

(This recipe is so simple that I don't even have it written down anywhere. I hope it makes sense.) Fill a bowl with icing sugar. Add water, a dribble at a time, stirring after each addition, until the icing is a spreadable consistency. It doesn't take much water (something like a teaspoon per cup of icing sugar), so don't add a lot at once. Add food coloring if desired. This icing will dry fairly hard if you leave the cookies out overnight.

Window-Pane Cookies


This is a surprisingly easy variation that works beautifully. Prepare the dough as directed above. Cut out fairly large cookies (I use a plastic cup or margarine container, or even just a knife, because I don't have any big cookie cutters). Now cut smaller holes out of the middle of the large cookies (4-5 cm diameter). Place the cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and place a hard candy in the center of each. (I also used broken candy cane pieces, and they worked well, too.) Bake as directed above. The candies will melt and spread to fill the holes during the baking time. Allow the cookies to cool completely on the parchment paper before attempting to move them, so the candy has time to harden.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

It's so cut and dry when you're two years old

Valerie woke up an hour early this morning. That might not seem like a big deal to most people, but to a new mom who is just barely getting enough sleep to function until naptime, it's an eternity. I plopped Valerie on the couch in front of a movie, then curled up on the loveseat in a futile attempt to capture a few more minutes of rest.

She came right over and proceeded to poke me, pull me, climb on me, and otherwise completely prevent any further sleep. (Which, of course, she does anytime I have the audacity to try and sleep while she is awake, but I still try it occasionally when the tiredness is especially acute.)

Valerie: Come on, Mom, you're not sore. (After I had Dorothy, I explained my incapacity by saying I was "sore.")

Jule Ann: No, but I'm tired. You woke up too early. It wasn't really morning yet.

Valerie: I said, "Good morning!"

And that settled it. It's morning.