“He’s making a list,
he’s checking it twice,
He’s gonna find out who’s
naughty or nice,
Santa Claus is coming to town.”
(performed by the Jackson 5.)
Or is he?
I realise that this could be somewhat controversial, but my husband and I have decided NOT to tell our children that Father Christmas is real. He wont be questioning whether they are naughty or nice each year, and he wont be coming down our chimney. Especially since we don’t have one.
I grew up believing in Father Christmas. My parents didn’t do the dressing up part of things, but we wrote him letters, we did have stockings, and we did put out a mince pie, a glass of something and a carrot for Rudolph.
And I loved it.
They did a great job. I was utterly convinced.
So convinced in fact, that even in the face of some of my school friends attempting to burst the bubble, and in conversations with other adults who, whilst not actually undermining the idea, gave me a hint that they didn’t believe in him, I adamantly refused to waver – accusing them of not having enough faith, and subsequently not deserving to have him visit. I think my Mum had to gently challenge me not to be so fervent in conversation with others, because I was coming off a bit rude.
I held on to this until the end of year five, not so long before my tenth birthday in the summer.
I had begun to question, after years of arguing with people, whether there may or may not be some truth to their insistence that I was being duped.
This had also come at a time when I had recently given my life to Jesus, and was wondering how, there only being one powerful God, was reconcilable with the magic of a jolly, fat man, flying round the world filling every child’s stockings with presents in one night. So I did the sensible thing, and asked my Mum a direct question about whether it was actually all true.
We were in the last weeks of Advent, so Mum told me to ask her again on Christmas night. I was highly suspicious at this point, and thought that if it was going to be bad news, why on earth would I want to hear it on Chrismas Day – one of the most joyful days of the year and the climax of all the build up – so I didn’t bother. Instead I left it until the summer, when I finally got my answer.
She told me about St. Nicholas, and that he had been real, but that the actual Father Christmas idea was not true.
I was gutted.
Always with a flair for the dramatics, I think I said to her something like –
“So many times you have lied to me!” to which Mum understandably got a little irked and defensive, and told me not to be so ridiculous, that it was only this one thing.
I had simply meant that she (and Dad) had continued to perpetuate the myth.
I was a good big sister though, and as the eldest of four I diligently kept the secret for my siblings and continued to honour the story, although I am not sure that they were as bothered as me when they eventually found out the truth.
I have since discussed with my parents many times, their decision to tell us about Father Christmas. It was my Mum’s idea as she had grown up with it, whereas Dad had been the annoying kid at school (his words, not mine) who went around telling his schoolmates that there was no such person. However they both agreed that it had been really lovely hearing our delighted voices from downstairs opening our stocking presents and shouting
“Oh, Thank you Santa!!!”, knowing that we didn’t know it was them who had done it all.
I can see the appeal. Giving anonymously, and yet having the pleasure of seeing the response, is always a huge blessing.
However, the more that I come to know Jesus and grow in my faith, the more I am convinced that honesty and transparency are both vital and right. Particularly in a world which is filled with deception and lies, it falls on us where we know the truth, to stand apart in telling it, refusing to just go along with the norm.
I know that as parents, we will make loads of mistakes. I will probably inadvertently teach my children things which are wrong or shortsighted
But I don’t want to tell them untruths when I have the capacity to choose to avoid it. I don’t want to lie to my children.
And I don’t want them to ever doubt our trustworthiness as parents.
Who’s to say that my choosing to tell, what many would consider a white lie, won’t subtly communicate to their tender, impressionable hearts, that even the people they most rely upon are not safe to trust?
I want them to know that we can be relied on to help them navigate what is true, what is right and wrong, and how to view themselves and others, with integrity.
Like all parents, I have their best interests at the forefront of my mind when making choices on their behalf. But in preparing them to be all that they can be in the world, I can’t afford to let them feel that maybe they aren’t respected enough to be told the truth, in an appropriate manner.
My other problem with a lot of this is the subtle ‘truths’ about faith which are communicated to our kids through this idea.
- How can I knowingly ask them to believe in something that I know to be a lie?
- When they do find out, how can I still expect them to believe in a God who they can’t see, who many others will declare is a myth?
- Many people do make this transition fine, but how many more have found that this disappointment, among many others, has left a mark on their ability to trust someone unseen?
- And particularly, how can I teach them about unconditional love? About the nature of GRACE (God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense), if I am perpetuating the lie that someone is keeping a list of who will get presents based on whether they were good enough all year?!?
This feels too much like manipulation, and I have no wish to hold that over them.
My children will have many hurts in this life, some of them will inevitably be at my hands, but I would never knowingly choose to hurt them, however minor it was. So why should I set them up for a fall, even a small one, with Father Christmas?
So instead, we give stockings filled with a few small gifts- something to play with, to cuddle, to read, something godly perhaps, and a piece of fruit to start the day with – the clementine was always a favourite of my childhood stockings.
As they get older we’ll add something for them give away. There is no need for hundreds of toys, just a few meaningful, thoughtful things, and second hand stuff is great.
A stocking is fun, and certainly a practical way of holding back the start of Christmas day until at least a vaguely reasonable hour (here’s hoping- HA!), but the presents will be from us.
In our family, we talk about Father Christmas as an amazing character, like the Gruffalo, or Winnie The Pooh – a part of the festive decoration.
We will tell our kids of the story of St. Nick who, upon hearing of a destitute family of young women on the brink of prostitution, chose to anonymously gift them a purse of money to make ends meet – by dropping it down their chimney.
We can talk of the graciousness of God becoming human, as a vulnerable baby to a poor couple, just so that we could know that He knows how hard it is, that he gets it. To discover the permanent freedom and peace he offers us for eternity – starting now.
That grace is not about balancing our good works versus bad deeds on the scale of rewards, but about receiving our reward regardless of how ‘deserving’ we may feel we are. Because, after all the tinsel and food, Christmas is actually about the arrival of the baby Jesus.
Every family is different, and we all make the decisions we feel are the best ones. Therefore if you practice expecting Father Christmas, please don’t feel condemned by this post- you are not. These are our thoughts, this is our journey…. My husband and I simply find it helpful to periodically re-examine our choices with an open heart. If they are right we can be confident in them and if there is a better way, we can always make changes.
This Christmas we shall still experience the joy of anonymous giving, by choosing to bless those in real need of help, and by trusting that our Father in heaven is pleased with us.
And we shall trust that Jesus is gift enough.