Not only does the current Santa paradigm undermine our authenticity and integrity, but it undermines it in our kids. I want to know my kids, really know them. I want to hear and talk about uncomfortable truths. I want genuine, incorrupted honesty. I’ve done some personal work to stop myself from using negating talk like, “Don’t cry,” “It’s not that bad,” and “Calm down.” Even though it may make me uncomfortable to see them cry or be angry, it’s important to me that they learn to identify and accept their feelings. How else will they learn to be authentic with themselves and others? This is not to say all behavior that goes along with those feelings is acceptable. I’m with Santa on you “better not pout”, not “you better not cry.”
It’s not just authenticity I’m concerned about, but it’s close companion integrity. Integrity, to me, means not only being true to who you are and what you feel, but holding to what you believe in the face of pressure to do otherwise. It means aligning your actions with your beliefs. It means doing what you know is right whether or not you think anyone is watching.
Santa, on the other hand is always watching. He’s even recently established a secret police of spy elves to report on you. If you want to get what you are asking for, you better make him happy. Good behavior is about how you appear and who is judging you. It creates hypocrites. It rewards the appearance of goodness while ignoring true character and intentions.
While the threat of Santa’s ire may convince your child to comply in the holiday season, it’s teaching them to behave for the wrong reasons. It’s teaching them to give in to pressure or fear for a reward. It’s the same practice predators, fascists, and cults depend on to get compliance. I want my kids to do what I tell them as an act of love and trust, not to please some judgmental old man who’s holding all the cards.
The Santa situation places all focus on the child, their wants, and their behavior. It encourages self-centeredness. Every interaction becomes about them being good to earn their gifts. They are told to make a list, not of what all they are thankful for, but of all their wants and desires. Their focus is turned away from the good gifts that they may have just spent Thanksgiving being thankful for to getting their parents ready for the biggest Christmas shopping day. Not only does this breed discontentment with things, but discontentment with themselves. They are being watched and judged at every move. One wrong move and they might be declared “bad” and lose all that they wished for. Or they might be perfectly “good” and become self-righteous, feeling entitled to their “gifts.” I don’t want their sense of self-worth to be dependent on their behavior.
I lean towards a simple and minimalist lifestyle. I like to challenge myself and my kids to figure out the minimum we need, to focus on having just enough, and to care for and be thankful for what we have. This just isn’t compatible with “make a list for Santa of everything you want.” I don’t want them to value stuff so much that they’d do anything to get them.
It seems most people, myself included use Christmas, as a time to be generous. The Santa story conceals this. Your parents who’ve told you no throughout the year are about to be overridden by Santa. Be good and he’ll give you what your stingy parents won’t. Of course, as I said in a previous post, if these gifts are dependent on behavior, they aren’t really gifts, but compensation. So where’s the generosity? Not even Santa is generous. He is not giving freely out of his own kindness.
Also, all this focus on behavior and reward distracts from focusing on others and giving generously to them. If they have not freely received, why freely and abundantly give?