Back when I was in high school, I began to really question the wisdom of the whole Santa thing. This was partly because my youth director shared with us why he didn’t do Santa with his family, and partly because, the more I thought about it, the more inappropriate it seemed. Celebrating the birth of Jesus isn’t good enough on its own? We have to make Christmas more special by playing the Santa game? (This issue bothers me even more at Easter, but that’s another story…)
My real concern, as I got older, though, was that someday, when I had children, my lying to them (and I don’t care what kind of pretty bow you put on it, that’s what it is), could cause them to question other things I told them to be true. Specifically, would it cause them to doubt their faith, and wonder if, since I lied to them about Santa, maybe I lied to them about Jesus, too? And that happens–I’ve met many adults who have had such a crisis of faith, and while some of them came out if fine, some of them lost their faith, and that’s just not a risk worth taking.
When I met Ryan, I found that he had the same feelings about Santa that I did, only more so. And so, we decided that when we had children, we just weren’t going to do it. Of course, we’ve taken some criticism about it, and we’ve heard it al–we’re leaving all the fun out of Christmas, we’re not letting them be children, we’re not letting them experience the magic of Christmas, blah, blah, blah (and all this just emphasized everything that’s wrong with our culture’s obsession with the jolly fat man!). Some have even assumed we don’t celebrate Christmas or do gifts at all! (Because we choose not to participate in the secular aspect of a Christian holiday? Figure that one out!) But we’ve stuck with it, and while the children know about the myth regarding Santa (and they also know not to spoil it for anyone else), they have never expected Santa to bring them presents.
But what I didn’t know, way back when we made that decision to leave Santa out of our holiday plans, is that I would someday have a child with autism. But God clearly knew about it when He put these hesitantcies on our hearts, and I’m so glad we listened. You see, autism makes abstract thinking a challenge. So there are two potential bad results of doing Santa with an autistic child. First, if they’re taught to believe that it’s true, they may keep believing long after it’s appropriate to be playing make-believe like that. This could cause them to be ridiculed at school, because it’s just one more way an autistic child would stand out as “different.”
Worse yet, the abstract nature of Santa, once realized, could truly cause them to doubt Christ. Not just in a little kid having a tantrum kind of way, but in an autistic, “if I can’t see it, it must not be true, especially since I’ve been lied to about this other thing kind” of way. This was my original fear about playing Santa, only magnified by a lot–because the autistic brain simply works differently than typical brains. Faith issues are a constant worry anyway, without adding man-made reasons for doubt.
Don’t get me wrong–I have no ill will towards people who choose to do Santa with their families. I grew up with the game, and I seem to have turned out OK. And I’m not telling my children to ruin for anyone else (and they haven’t, although they do live in fear of being asked what Santa is bringing them if other children are around!). But I am so glad I listened when God placed this on my heart, because there’s no way I could have known back then just how horrible it would have been to start down the Santa road when we had our first child.