Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Real or Pretend?

Try playing this game with your little ones...

Tell me, children, which of these stories are real and which are pretend?

  • God sent a great flood to destroy all life on earth, but kept Noah and his family, as well as two of every kind of animal, safe on a big boat called The Ark. 
  • A poor young lady named Cinderella was transformed into a beautiful princess by her fairy godmother, and went to the palace to dance with the price, riding in a pumpkin coach. 
  • When Moses and the children of Israel were trapped by the Red Sea and being chased by Pharoah's army, Moses raised his staff and God parted the waters, allowing the Israelites to cross over on dry land.
  • When you lose a tooth, you should put your tooth under your pillow. If you do, in the middle of the night, the tooth fairy will come, take your tooth, and give you a present in it's place!
  • Wise men, from the east, saw a bright, shining star in the sky. The star meant that a new king had been born. The wise men journeyed from their faraway land, all the way to Bethlehem, where they saw the Baby Jesus, worshiped Him, and gave Him gifts.
  • On Christmas Eve, a jolly man in a red suit named Santa Claus travels from his home at the North Pole in a sleigh pulled by flying Reindeer, and visits all the children on the earth. He lands on the roof tops, slides down the chimneys, and leaves behind presents for them to open on Christmas day.
Did you do it? How did your kids do?

If your kids are young, chances are they had a hard time discerning which stories were real, and which were pretend. This is because little children, by nature, are not good at telling the difference between fantasy and reality. Children generally believe what adults tell them--especially people they trust--and one miraculous sounding story doesn't sound much different from the next. Unless, of course, we as parents tell them, "This story is true--it really happened!" or, "This story is pretend. It's just a fun story."

As a mother, one calling that I take seriously is to teach my children discernment. I am admonished to lead them to Jesus, and to not do anything that would cause them to turn away from faith in Christ.

"And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. 
But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, 'Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 
'Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.'
And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them."
Mark 10:13-16 NASB

Childlike faith--it's what makes it easy for little ones to believe the message of the Gospel. It is also what makes it so easy for them to be deceived.

"But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."
Matthew 18:6

In our family, these truths have lead my husband and I to make the decision to be honest with our children about Santa Claus.

From the very beginning, they know he is not real. 

We aren't scrooges about it, and we don't attempt to cut off all exposure they might have to the concept. We simply tell them the truth. Santa Claus is just a fun, pretend story. Not real. St. Nicholas, to be sure, was a real person who lived long ago--and we tell that story!--but the North Pole? Flying reindeer? Sliding down chimneys? Nope. Not real.

We read our children the Word of God. We want desperately for our children to believe the wonderful, miraculous, hard-to-believe truths of the Bible. We have seen that inauthentic faith and unsound doctrine is often linked to a rejection of the more "supernatural" portions of the Scriptures. Therefore, we think it unwise to lead our children to believe that Santa is real, only to tell them otherwise at some later point in their childhood. We don't want them to assume, after we've burst the Santa Claus bubble, that Jesus--the reason we celebrate Christmas!!--is also not real.

This decision seems so obvious and logical to me, that I've almost gotten myself in trouble a couple of times with other children's parents. Once again, I am dumbfounded by Christian parents who seem to have a vested interest in having their children believe that Santa Claus is real.

I completely understand it from non-Christian families--for them, the "pretend story" of Santa Claus is far more fun than the "pretend story" of a baby being born on a cold, dark night in Bethlehem and being laid to sleep in a feeding trough.

But, from Christians? What could the possible benefit be for believing parents to have children who believe in Santa Claus just as strongly--if not more so!--as they believe in Jesus Christ?

While I haven't done any definitive research on the subject, I can think of a couple possible reasons:

"We don't want to rob them of childhood."

Maybe it stems from watching Miracle on 34th Street too many times, but in our culture, a child who does not believe that Santa Claus is real is seen as having been deprived of something. Most of us grew up believing in Santa Claus. Admittedly, one of the reasons I am able to soundly reject the notion of deceiving my children in this way is because my parents had similar sentiments when I was a young child. 

Now, this is not to say that we never pretended about Santa Claus. We certainly did! We watched the classic television programs like Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. We put out cookies and milk "for Santa", but I was pretty sure that Dad ate them. There were always a few presents under the tree that were labeled "from Santa"--but "Santa Claus" obviously had grandma's handwriting! Nonetheless, I always knew it was pretend.

In our home, my husband and I do a lot less pretending about Santa Claus than I did growing up. There are many who would argue that pretending about Santa Claus at all detracts from the celebration of the birth of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ--and frankly, I lean in that direction most of the time myself--but we do accept the fact that Santa Claus is ubiquitous and therefore allow our children some exposure to the stories, songs, and poetry about Santa.

Santa Claus as a Reason for Children to Behave

Sing it with me,

"Oh, you'd better watch out,
You'd better not cry!
You'd better not pout!
I'm telling you why,
Santa Claus is coming to town!"

There are plenty of parents who use the impending arrival of Santa Claus as a reason for their children to be on their best behavior. Most deplorably, some parents will actually tell their children that, if they don't really believe in Santa Claus, he won't bring them presents.

While I will be the first to admit that raising well-behaved children is difficult, I am not allowed the luxury of  inventing stories to manipulate my little ones. Moreover, my children are commanded to obey me as unto the LORD, not as unto Santa Claus.

Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.
HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise),
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:1-4

My children are to obey their father and I because God commands them to, not because they may or may not be brought gifts on Christmas Eve. If I need to use Santa Claus as an incentive for my children to obey me, then I probably need to re-evaluate what I am doing as a parent to win the hearts and attention of my children.


Additionally, I can think of more than one example of children who were "provoked to anger" when they discovered--through one method or another--that their parents had been lying to them about Santa (and the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc.) for all these years.

From the parents' perspective, it was harmless fun. From the children's perspective, it was nothing more than a bold-faced lie.

How long will it take for those parents to win their credibility back with their children? More disturbingly, will those children ever look at the real stories of Christmas and Easter with anything but doubt ever again?

"He sees you when you're sleeping,
He knows when you're awake,
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!"

Don't we tell our children similar things about God? Why should we assume that they will not lose their confidence in Him--and in us--when they realize that we have not been honest with them?

When it finally comes down to it, more children in America worship--yes, I said WORSHIP--Santa Claus than worship The Lord Jesus Christ.

For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever, Amen.
Romans 1:25

Dear friends, let us be careful with the hearts of our little ones this Christmas. St. Nicholas was a real man who lived long ago and loved and worshiped Jesus Christ. He was even imprisoned for his faith. The good that he did during his life was for and because of Jesus.

We can have all sorts of fun with pretend stories, but the modern day insistence of parents on telling their children that Santa Claus is a real, magical being, smacks of idolatry.

So, the next time you see a man in a Santa Suit, please, please, tell your little ones that he is just "A nice old man with whiskers."...

And remind them that our Lord Jesus Christ, who is Emmanuel, God with us, as preached to us by the Holy Scriptures, is the reason that we celebrate Christmas.

And He is very real indeed.


*Mirage* said...

Amen! I was always told Santa is pretend as a child and NEVER felt deprived for one instant. I felt sorry for kids whose parents lied to them.

Kari said...

We're a no-Santa family here! I don't like to lie to my children. I tell them that things like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc. are fun stories but we don't pretend they're real.

No gifts come from Santa; they're all given from family members.

We do discuss St. Nicholas and talk about how his generosity may have led to the myth of Santa Claus.

But Easter and Christmas are Christian celebrations in our house and don't involve any fictional characters.

Thanks again, Tiana, for helping to set a good example!!!

Anonymous said...

I think we should organize a "Santa Claus-less Family" group here to tell the world that many families in the world do not believe in nor subscribe to the "Santa Claus" thing, and neither do our children.

Beth said...

Very well said!

Kevin Miller - FreeAgentAcademy.com said...

Well, I don't disagree. Just as I don't disagree with eating raw veggies as the majority of a person's diet is most healthy. I don't eat a majority of raw veggies though. Point being, we do Santa...moderately. And are very wary of all the issues you bring up. I think it's just as well not to. Ultimately, we did because...well...didn't really know any better initially. So as we started getting insight, we downplayed it. For folks who do Santa...at least hit the story of St. Nick as a real guy who blessed families and go with the 'we celebrate the spirit of giving.' But again...if you are just having kids, I'm with Tiana.

Cheryl said...

Well said. My sentiments exactly.

Joel Boggess said...

Hi Tiana,

I love your approach. Telling the truth to young minds is always the best approach. Even if it's not always socially acceptable.

It takes courage to raise kids that way.

I am grateful for parents like you and your husband.

Honey said...

We tell our kids the truth about Santa.

One time when my husband and I were discussing Santa Claus, we talked about the scary fact that parents encourage their children to go up to a strange man and sit on his knee. With the parents blessing. What other time would we do this?

We have always been honest about Santa because we want our kids to trust us and everything they say. How can they trust us if we lie to them for years about Santa?

Just my two cents...

MyklK said...

We've never done Santa with our four. However we are respectful of others and we have taught our kids that pretending about Santa is a game that other families take very serious. So we should not go and tell our friends about it.

I know of some parents who have had some grown up conflict to deal with because their children were indiscrete and "spoiled the game" for other families. It's all part of telling your kids the truth about Santa.

Brian Ingram said...

You're kidding, right?

Let me see if I have this straight: You want your children to think critically so as to not engage in the magical-thinking that allows for a Santa Claus, but you don't suspect that same critical-thinking technique ("Real-or-Pretend") will be applied to the kind of thinking processes that are necessary for believing in any god when they get older.

Is that correct? Do I have that right?

How do you intend to defend your Christ from the kind of critical-thinking that leads one to conclude that there is no Santa Claus?

Also, the same "Real-or-Pretend" technique can be applied to other religions, like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism. I fully suspect this tactic (or some variant of it) will be employed to refute any claims your child(ren) may bring up about these other religions. How do you intend to keep this thinking skill from being employed by your children for its use on Christianity?

Heather said...

I completely agree with you. We have never taught our children that Santa was real. We, like you, don't banish Santa completely -- but it's just a fun story (same with the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy). I remember learning that Santa wasn't real myself when I was a child (from an older brother who let it slip) and I felt so horrible -- I felt like my parents had been lying to me for years and I couldn't understand that, and I felt like they must think I was really stupid to make me believe something like that. These things in addition to wanting the focus to actually be on Christ's birth (and resurrection, at Easter), made us decide early on NOT to teach these mythical figures as real!

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I'm a Stay-at-Home, Christian, "crunchy" mama. I have been blessed with the calling to be a godly wife and mother. I am passionate about bringing up my children in the discipline and instruction of the LORD, through home education and discipleship. Helpmeet to my best friend and soulmate, Christopher since 1/29/2000, and mama to four little blessings, including a tiny, precious, newborn baby girl.

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