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Holiday Controversy—To Agree to Disagree

Yesterday’s Santa post yielded more discussion, debate, and even contention than any post I’ve written thus far. I certainly think a healthy debate is good. I even think disagreement is good. I think offering differing perspectives helps one another grow. Some of the conversations I think got too heated.

I think yesterday showed how impassioned people feel about Santa Claus, even as adults. Santa represents innocence and magic. I apologize if I sounded judgmental about parents who choose to teach their kids about Santa. That was certainly not my intention and I meant no judgment or disrespect. I think every family needs to make choices that are right for them along with the countless other parenting decisions that come up day-to-day. I don’t think there’s a blanket right or wrong decision about how to parent. I would only suggest intentionality about decisions, big or small.

When Andy and I were expecting Maggie, we discussed and agreed to several parenting decisions, long before our first was born. Santa was amongst those conversations. We discussed the pros and the cons about whether to include Santa as a real entity in Christmas celebrations and decided to include Santa with the disclosure that he is a myth, a character from a fictional story. We decided then that whatever the question, we will be honest with our kids in age-appropriate ways.

Concerning Christmas, I often feel like an anthropologist trying to understand the holiday from an outsider’s perspective. Yesterday, I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas for the first time and I identified more with Charlie Brown than any other character in the countless holiday movies we have watched thus far this year. My childhood experiences with Christmas and other holidays were very negative, and in many ways, my parenting choices are in response to these formative experiences.

I do not recall a happy Christmas from my childhood. I’m sure when I was little before I could remember, there were happy ones. I do not remember if I believed in Santa Claus. I don’t remember believing in it, nor do I remember not believing in it. All of my memories of childhood before my parents’ divorce at the age of nine are a blur, just frozen shots in old photographs.

What I do remember of Christmas and other holidays was they were all opportunities for contention, family in-fighting, parental turf wars, and what felt like constant tests of loyalty and fealty towards one parent or the other. “Who do you want to spend Christmas with?” was a loaded question riled with guilt trips and repercussions regardless of the answer. Dividing time between sides of the family rarely led to a drama-free holiday experience. My parents either overshared, usually TMI character attacks towards my other parent, misled, and often lied about matters they probably considered unimportant at the time but deeply impacted my sense of trust towards them and others. It took several years of therapy and reflection for me to have a sort of normal relationship with either of my parents. I love my parents, but I do not want to raise my children in the ways they’ve raised me.

Andy and I decided early on that we are a united front with our parental decisions. We don’t always agree, but we hash things out behind closed doors. Once we’re on the same page, then we move forward. In this way, our children do not see us as opposing forces but as a united and stable front. If Mommy says no, so does Daddy. If Daddy says no, so does Mommy. We’ll debate the decision, consider the many nuances and potential consequences of each side, and then we proceed. In other words, our decisions are rarely spontaneous. They are methodically discussed and thought through long before any action. Santa was one of those decisions. We still stand by our decision because we think it’s best for our family.

We will teach our children to respect the beliefs of others, including Santa. We may be Christians, but just because we believe this doesn’t mean that others do. As they grow up, I want them to learn about Hanukkah, even though we are not Jewish. I want them to learn about and respect the beliefs and cultures of others. They will not be the kid that takes away another child’s belief in Santa.

I also consider the long term implications of this decision. Maggie has a serious condition and the prognosis of Maggie having a normal childhood and adulthood is likely in the 2% range. I want them to be able to ask and trust our answers when they are old enough to do so. I’d certainly prefer that than them perusing the Internet for answers, about this and anything else that comes up throughout their childhood. I expect that for this reason alone, they will both grow up faster than we would like. That being said, I want them to know that if they ask either of us anything, they will get the truth.

Christmas is a time for miracles. I don’t want miracles in our home attributed to Santa. I want the credit for Christmas miracles in our home to be given to Jesus. Besides, it’s his birthday after all.

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