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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Santa sacked

A dilemma...

As atheists, we have no intention of telling our daughter there is a God, watching her all day, every day and judging her behaviour to be black or white, bad or good.  She won't be Christened, and whilst we hope to raise her to be tolerant of other people's cultures, I would also like to encourage in her a scepticism and a reliance on experience, on science, on facts, on provable hypotheses.

How does Santa fit into this?

On one hand, it seems harmless enough - a way of injecting magic into Christmas.  I was told of Santa as a child - and whilst by the time I was 5 or 6, I think I'd stopped believing - I don't think it did me any long-term harm.  Even after I'd ceased to truly believe, I still enjoyed putting out a mince pie and whiskey for Santa, and some milk for Rudolph, and seeing how they'd disappeared in the morning.

On the other hand - it sounds fairly damaging.  "An obese man you've never met before will come into your bedroom.  We've given him some whiskey so he might be drunk.  You'll be asleep, so you won't see him... probably.  It doesn't matter that we don't have a chimney.  He can get into any house."  I remember my two year-old brother being terrified of Santa, and healthily so.

And the things we're asking children to believe; that he's able to visit every house in the world in one night, that he flies, that he makes the presents with his elves - how does this tally with the scientific scepticism that we'd like to instil in our child?  Doesn't Santa get sick of mince pies in every single house?  Why does he need so many mince pies?  When does he go to the toilet?  How does Rudolph get in to drink his milk / eat his carrot (delete as per your family tradition)?  How is this present from Grandma, if Santa's elves make the presents and Santa delivers them?  Isn't that kind of adding an unnecessary step into the process?

Assuming Santa's magic means he can "freeze frame" the night to deliver all of the presents (which miraculously fit all in one sleigh), isn't it mind-numbingly tedious for him to visit every house in the world leaving presents over, and over?  It's certain this this repetitive action (not to mention the exclusive diet of mince pies and whiskey) would send someone insane.  Let alone having to do it every year.

It's not just about lying to the child (I'm sure we'll lie to her hundreds of times over the next 18 years: "Broccoli is yummy", "Crusts make your hair curly", "Monty Cat went to live on a farm"), but about challenging her to think through the logic.

Additionally, the whole myth has Christian overtones I'm not that happy with.  Santa watches over us all and judges whether you get a reward - encouraging children to behave well for a reward, rather than because it's the right thing to do.  He performs miracles.  We don't encourage children to think about whether he really does visit the whole world in one night - what about the non-Christian countries?  What about the time difference?

The final argument I hear for perpetuating the Santa myth is, "It'll spoil it for the other children."  Part of me kind of gets that - it ties in with respecting other people's cultures.  But for me - I'm not sure it's a good enough reason.  We don't believe in God, and there's no way we'd pretend we did in case we "spoiled it for others".

Aged five I remember saying to my primary school teacher, "My mum says there's no such thing as the tooth fairy."  In actual fact, she'd done no such thing.  She had - actually - painstakingly written a letter to me from the Tooth Fairy in teeny tiny handwriting.  But I was still sceptical.  And my scepticism was vindicated when my teacher replied, "Shh, don't spoil it for the other children."

You'll probably be asking, well, why do we celebrate Christmas at all - as atheists, we don't celebrate Eid or Divali or Hanukkah.  For me at least, it's about being with family - an excuse for some time off work to all get together.  I can't put it better than Tim Minchin does.

Does that tradition need to include Santa?  I'm not sure.  Thoughts welcomed!


Anonymous said...

I am pro-Santa if only because a little bit of magic and disbelief is just as important. It let's you think outside of what you know and can prove. Surely part of learning to critically assess something is learning to say "that seems improbable - let me consider why". I also think that imagining the impossible is what makes for great scientific paradigm shifts and amazing inventions.

Jack said...

You have a Christmas or two left to figure this one out with the sprog. I say just play her the snowman on repeat and she will be bright enough to realise that snowmen can't dance and thus make the natural leap of logic that all of reality is an illusion! And yes Tim made a nice song.

Jon Male said...

There's no such thing as the tooth fairy? Where do you get this nonsense!

Sara said...

My parents never actually told us Santa was real... just a fun story. I was probably the one in our class that spoiled it for everyone else! haha! I think it's fun to include Santa in the family festiveness, but not insist he's actually a real person.
I'm with you on the science and facts thing!

Anonymous said...

This is the most disturbing part of what you were told: "I still enjoyed putting out a mince pie and whiskey for Santa, and some milk for Rudolph."

I believe you're supposed to leave a mince pie out and milk for Santa. He's not supposed to get whiskey and he shouldn't be bringing a fucking reindeer into every house. Think of the shit!

It sounds like one of your parents had/has a drinking problem.

Lucinda Harrington said...

Some good points! I've often wondered if it's a good idea to try to convince children of things we know not to be true.