A Skeptical Christmas.

Whilst I’m not a religious man myself (well not in any way you could define with mainstream religion, but that’s another complicated story) I do enjoy the Christmas/New Year period. It’s a great time to take stock of the past year and set goals for myself in the coming year. Still there’s parts of it that have started to give me a fair whack of cognitive dissonance, mainly around the whole Santa thing and the story that we perpetuate with our children. There’s one part of me that enjoys the whole wonder aspect of it and creating that awesome family experience that you can enjoy year after year (until they get old enough to ask questions) but on the other hand the skeptic in me rises up and starts asking me the most poignant question “Will you do the same with your kids?’. In all honesty I can’t say for sure what I will do.

If there’s one thing I’d like to avoid with my future offspring it would be intentionally making them social pariahs. I know what its like for kids who are just a little bit different and they’re going to cop enough flak as it is without me telling them all their friends are idiots for believing in Santa. So there’s a fine line to tread between being a good skeptic and being a good parent. Although there is the possibility that the people of the modern skeptic movement (who are by and large members of my generation) may instead take the alternative, meaning the social norm will shift. That’s not something I’m going to count on though.

I’ve had experience with this before as well. Working in childcare around this time of year usually garnered questions from kids along the lines of “Is Santa real”. I’d worked out the best line for this was “What do you think” with the majority of kids then giving me their own idea without me having to supply my own. It was a good tactic and served to keep the skeptic at bay whilst remaining approachable with the kids. There would be nothing worse than being a childcare worker known amongst the kids as the guy who killed Santa for them.

Is there a happy middle ground we can reach here? It’s deeply entrenched in most western worlds that we perpetuate this lie (don’t fool yourself, you’re lying to your kids), even to the point of getting companies like Air Services Australia to create websites and put their CEO on TV to spout this Santa nonsense. It’s great PR for them but it also shows how far we’re willing to perpetuate a fallacy for a very small section of the population. It’s been irking me every morning when I wake up to watch the news and I see fluff pieces like this on TV, but at the same time I don’t want to go around stomping on other’s childhoods just because I have a skeptical agenda to push.

It seems the skeptic and libertarian are duking it out again.

There’s another side to this tale to: the moment of realisation when you find out that Santa isn’t real and you begin to question what your parents tell you. Many of us have been through this moment and it usually comes at a time when we’re beginning to question the world around us. The realisation that your parents lied to you is astounding since you’ve been told from an early age that lying is unacceptable. Indeed to not perpetuate the Santa lie could very well be tantamount to denying your children a coming of age ritual that our society has been performing for several generations. Do we, as parents (or when we become them), have the right to deny them this? Maybe staying through the 5~8 years of perpetuating the Santa myth would be worth it to instill that lesson in your children that the only real facts are the ones you can verify yourself.

Gargh I’m still not comfortable with that proposition.

In the end what parent’s do with their children is their business and I’m not going to go about telling them what they should and shouldn’t do. Going against social norms is, especially for children, an easy way to see yourself ostracized and can be really devastating, something you’d want to avoid in those early years of a child’s life. After bashing this all out I still don’t know where I stand on all this and I’ll just have to keep letting the skeptic, future father and libertarian in my head duke it out until a clear winner comes out or they all collapse in on each other.

It’s going to be an interesting few days that’s for sure 😉

4 Comments

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  1. This seems like an appropriate time to quote this:
    Fake Santa: Now what can I get you for Christmas?
    Buddy: Don’t tell him what you want, he’s a liar!
    Fake Santa: Let the kid talk.
    Buddy: You disgust me! How can you live with yourself?
    Fake Santa: Just cool it, Zippy.
    Buddy: You sit on a throne of lies!

    I don’t know – you do have to let kids be kids at some point in their childhood 😛 I never really thought about the whole Santa thing as lying. I guess I kind of threw it into the basket of make believe – once you get to a certain point, it starts to make less sense. Eventually you catch on (or you’re told) that it’s all been pretend. I always figured it was just part of growing up, not some big lie meant to trick me.

    I think as long as you are instilling good values in your kids about what Christmas should mean to them then it doesn’t really matter if they believe in Santa or not. Growing up Christmas was a time when my family all got together, shared a meal and a laugh and spent time in each other’s company. We’d go to midnight mass (one of the rare occasions my family would actually go to mass) and donate something to the Church’s Giving Tree. Did I believe in Santa? Yes, and there was always the excitement of opening gifts on Christmas morning, but it was always overshadowed by other things. Maybe that comes from having a single parent and not having huge piles of toys that I never really needed or wanted. /shrug Who knows?

    Anyway, regardless of whether or not you believe/celebrate it, I hope you have a safe, relaxing and happy Christmas break! 🙂

  2. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. The skeptic inside me will rant and rave on about how its all lies until the end of time but it can easily be sidelined by the fact that, despite it not being real, there’s still an element that can be appreciated by all of us. Instead of focusing on the one point taking a more holistic approach to the festive times (did I just biztalk Christmas?) is probably what we should be focusing on.

    The same back at you Sarah! Very much looking forward to having the next week and a bit off 😀

  3. I found it fascinating how you portray “Santa” here compared to how we do it at home. Here it seems its the big fat American Santa that brings you all your presents that magically appears under your Christmas tree over night, and the kids wake up before the break of dawn to open the presents. We always thought this was a weird way of celebrating Christmas when we grew up, the way we saw it in American movies etc. Everyone knows that the “TV santa” doesn’t actually ride around the whole world in one night giving everyone presents.. In Norway however, there has always been a strong belief in myths about trolls and what we call “Santa” or the directly translated word “Nisse” which in english would be something like little gnomes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomte The part under “the modern tomte” describes very well how “Santa” is seen in Norway, I know my dad used to put out porridge for him every christmas eve when he was young, and some people with farms still do. (It’s always fun to believe there’s something more out there)

    Every year when we were young, the Nisse would come knocking on the door and he would have a present for us each, which was always additional to all the presents from our parents and family that was already under the tree waiting to be opened (we open presents on christmas eve). Somehow my dad ALWAYS managed to be asleep or working in the basement or something when Nissen came so he never got to meet him… ^^ As we got older we would just find presents hidden somewhere from Nissen when we woke up in the morning (on christmas eve), I even remember pretending to be asleep when I got older and had figured out it was only my parents, to see if they would come in and hide a present (they usually hid it under our blanket in the foot end of the bed).

    I think believing in that sort of “Santa” is much cuter than the commercial one today. Even this year me and Dan got a present in the box my mum sent us marked “From Svenningdal-nissen” (Svenningdal is where my parents live, there is lots of “nisser” all over the place named after what mountain or lake or place they live by)

  4. It’s posts like this that make me worry that the movement towards proud & loud atheism/scepticism will become the new social prudes.

    Disagree by all means, but surely society is allowed to have some (known) fictions to keep the world a more pleasant place. If you havn’t already, check out the movie invention of lying, where the demand for absolute truth means no fictional stories can be created, hence no literautre or movies other than straight history (It’s also a contender for most atheistic movie of the decade too). But their life is in short boring due to this requirement to stick entirely and utterly to the truth.

    Worry about the big things, lets leave the kids their fantasies.

    🙂 Merry christmas mate

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