Why Are Adults So Unhappy?

Every year, the Santa argument comes up on at least one of the forums I frequent. And the pro-Santa crowd always argue that no one will take the magic away from their children at Christmas–that they only have so many years to believe in Santa and use their imaginations and believe in magic before they grow up and realize “how crappy life really is.”

How bad are the lives of these adults that they feel this way about their children growing up?

Yes, the older you get, the more you’re aware of bad things in the world. But even children are familiar with unhappiness. To a four-year-old, having a favorite toy taken away, or being sent to their rooms, or any other form of punishment is the end of their world. Through a child’s eyes, these circumstances are just as bad as the bad things an adult goes through. Children are notorious for screaming, “It’s not fair!” so they clearly get that life can be harsh sometimes, Santa magic or not.

That being said, I don’t think, as an adult, that life is crappy. Yes, bad things happen. But there are so many more good things that happen, so many things to enjoy and appreciate. I know that Christmas is way more special to me now than it was when I was a child–and it was really special then! It’s so much fun sharing the holiday with my own children, and I have such a deeper appreciation for the Christmas story, especially from Mary’s perspective, now that I’m an adult. So I don’t get the mindset of getting as much mileage as possible out of the whole Santa thing, because life is going to suck later, because life just doesn’t suck that much.

Maybe that’s the difference in just celebrating a secular Christmas, and actually celebrating Christ’s birth!

The Santa Claus Myth

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.

My Problem With Santa

OK, to be honest, I have a few problems with the whole Santa thing (which is why we don’t “do” Santa around here). First, all of the qualities of God he’s given.  Omniscient (knows when you’re sleeping, knows if you’ve been good or bad), omnipresent (how else could he possibly deliver all those gifts all over the world in one night?!?), and darn well near omnipotent (how else can you explain the things he does–flying reindeer, world travel, eating all those cookies–sounds pretty close to all-powerful to me!).

Then there’s the fact that I don’t understand why the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior needs anything to be more special or more fun.  I feel this way even more at Easter with the whole Easter Bunny nonsense–because our Savior’s resurrection isn’t good enough on it’s own?  We need a candy and toy delivering bunny to make it better, somehow?  Church holidays should be able to stand on their own without our help, at least I think so.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem teaching my children about the real Saint Nicholas–about his faith in God, and about his generosity to others, which stemmed from that faith.  But, I can’t imagine that if the real Nicholas knew what kind of farce his kindness to children has morphed into, he would be very happy with it.  

But what really steams me is the way parents push the whole Santa thing, which makes me believe it’s really more for them than their children.  Take this quote, for example:

Q: What do you do when your kid asks if Santa is real?  A: Jacob is 7 and Connor is almost 6, so we’ve had this question a lot lately.  I remind them that we believe in some things even if we can’t see them–like how we believe in God.  There are so many heavy, serious things that kids today have to handle–they need a little magic too!”

Now, it’s one thing to play pretend with small children.  It’s not for us, but I (mostly) keep my opinions to myself, and I’m certainly not judging people who do Santa; my own parents did with me.  But the thing is, when I was about seven or so, and asked my mother if Santa was real, she didn’t lie to me, or try to convince me otherwise, she just asked me what I thought, and then I knew.  If you’re going to do Santa, I think that’s the best way to go about it–let your children figure it out on their own, and when they do, accept it, don’t try to convince them otherwise, or make the lie worse, like the mother in the quote above.  She crosses a serious boundry with her response to her children, because not only does she lie to them to try to get them to keep believing (and at an age when her oldest is probably ready and able to discern the truth), she makes a one-to-one comparison to God:  “We believe in some things even if we can’t see them–like how we believe in God.”

Warning!  Warning!  What serious Christian parent could possibly think this answer to a child’s question about the truth of Santa is appropriate or wise?  What happens to that child, when, at the age of eight or nine or whenever, he really does find out the truth about Santa?  Now, we’ve got not only the regular disappointment and potential disillusionment over finding out that your parents have been lying to you your whole life, but also a potential crisis of faith.  I can see it now:  “But mom, you said Santa is just like God; we can’t see either one of them, and I was supposed to still believe.  Now that I know Santa doesn’t exist, maybe God doesn’t either.  And since you lied to me about Santa, why should I believe you about God?”

Now, I’m not saying that every child is going to lose their faith, stop trusting their parents, etc., but if even one does, isn’t that too many?  (And just for the record, I did actually know someone who did have this crisis, and it took him a long time to work through.  That’s what first started me re-thinking the whole Santa thing back in high school.)  Is it really worth it to take that chance when we’re talking about something as serious as faith in the Almighty?  Since when did making Christmas “magical” become more important than nurturing a child’s faith in the One who created him?