Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Santa Tradition Teaches Unconditional Love

In some Christian circles, there’s a lot of debate about whether parents should emphasize the Santa Claus aspect of Christmas. The thinking is, when the kids get older and realize the mythological nature of that story, they might also wonder what else is folk legend. The concern is that kids will conclude the stories about Jesus and the Gospels are not true.

I suppose this is a valid concern, but I’d like to offer a different point of view from personal experience. When I was young, I loved my parents, I respected them, and I obeyed them (most of the time). But I also feared them. I mistakenly thought their love for me was conditional; that is, when they were disciplining me (deservedly, I admit), I thought they hated me. When I behaved and they were nice to me, that’s when I thought they loved me. So, I concluded their love for me waxed and waned based on whether my behavior was good or bad.

By the way, I was completely wrong in my understanding of my parents’ love for their children. They raised five kids on a meager teacher’s salary, and they did a fabulous job. Looking back, it’s understandable why they were often so stressed out. But as a confused seven-year-old, I didn’t know any better.

It reminds me of comedian Jim Gaffigan’s description of raising five young kids, as he and his wife are doing now: “Just imagine you’re floundering in the water, trying to keep from drowning, and then someone … hands you a baby.”
There must have been times when my parents felt like they were drowning, as they struggled to tread water while juggling five babies.

Even though I was a confused and anxious seven-year-old, when it came to Christmas, I instinctively knew I was going to get some presents on the morning of December 25th, no matter how I behaved. For some reason, I was certain all the talk about Santa’s “naughty list” was a bunch of baloney. I just knew Santa’s love for me was unconditional. 

Later on, when I came to understand the reality of the situation at about age 10, I didn’t feel deceived. I thought it was a pretty cool tradition, and when I realized how much my parents had sacrificed for us over the years to keep the story going, I had a new-found respect for them. This is one reason why I like the Santa Claus tradition: it helped me be more grateful toward my parents.

Much later in life, after spending over a decade trying to find some meaning to my life as an atheist (and failing), I came to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the same God the good nuns tried to explain to me in my childhood catechism classes.

As an adult, after my lost decade in the faithless wilderness, when some Christian friends tried to re-introduce me to the Creator God, the part about Him loving me unconditionally clicked right away. I understood it and I embraced it. Why? Because I had already experienced that feeling years earlier with Santa Claus.
A lot of people struggle with the idea of God being our Father. This is because they had lousy relationships with their own earthly fathers. My relationship with my dad was not bad, but it wasn’t perfect either. If I had never experienced the Santa Claus tradition as a child, I might have struggled accepting God as my loving Father. But I didn’t have a problem with that concept for one simple reason: Santa!

So, I’d say it's quite all right for kids to get excited about Santa Claus. It won’t ruin their faith later on. And it just might help them understand that God the Father, the Almighty Creator, truly loves them unconditionally. Ho! Ho! Ho!

1 comment:

  1. Atheism is not synonymous with meaninglessness, nor is it a wilderness. For meaning how about deep loving relationships that we have with others, the opportunity we have to help others that are in distress and make their lives better. Then there are things like learning about this amazing world...advancing science so our world will be better or even still habitable for our children and grandchildren. If we have rewarding work it can be a source of deep meaning. Nothing wilderness about nursing a sick child, or fixing a powerline that restores heat and light, or saving a life.
    Also, there are hundreds of simply joys and pleasures available to all of us that are not "wilderness"-they are a delight
    And lastly there is the satisfaction of taking personal responsibility for our own lives.

    Ruth O'Keefe