I should start off by disclosing that I have neither a horrible nor a colorful de-conversion story. I don’t feel like I have had to overcome decades of lies about the world. I am not saying that religion isn’t harmful, just that it didn’t really have a harmful impact on me personally. I was raised vaguely Christian, because I grew up in small town rural America and that’s what you do. However, our church was very liberal – as in rock band, sex education, and gay pastor liberal. And my parents were very open-minded. We had a whole bookshelf devoted to different cultures’ literature and mythology, National Geographic and World Book Encyclopedias.
I pretty much describe my Atheism as the logical outcome of having open-minded parents and being intelligent. I think if I had not been allowed to explore different traditions or question what I was told, I would probably have a different perspective on religion and traditions like Santa.
We have friends and relatives who vehemently reject the Santa myth. Some out of hatred for Christmas. Some because they think it’s wrong to lie to their kids. Some because of the lies that they believed when they were young. One has gone so far as to decorate their home with Krampuses and another makes it a point to talk about how Santa is stupid with their young kids, openly mocking the sheeple who believe. I find this kind of attitude disturbing. Hopefully their kids won’t become assholes and/or socially isolated. I figure there will be plenty of time later for our Atheist children to not fit in, and I don’t believe that teaching hate is right at any age.
I am going to say something that I am sure many of my Atheist friends will disagree with. We don’t have to raise our children to be skeptics. That is, If you allow your children to be open-minded, to question and to explore their worlds, they will almost inevitably become skeptics. We don’t have to force reason on them. Reason will win out in the end.
I think it is okay, healthy even, to let them come to these conclusions on their own after a period of make-believe and fun. Childhood should be magic. It’s okay for young children to think the world is a good, safe place, full of fun and wonder. They will have plenty of time to realize the harsh reality later on, and we’ll be there to administer hugs and advice when they do.
My children are very young – four and a half and one. Our four year old just began talking about Santa last year. We never introduced the topic and never really planned to. Not because of a strong aversion to Christmas, but because we hadn’t really thought about it. However, she received a copy of the book – Pete the Cat Saves Christmas as a gift. Also, she has people – people outside of our sphere of influence – and the media, and shops with us at Target, etc. Once she heard about the fun, she was hooked. What can I say? The good parts of Santa – a kind, jolly man who makes presents and delivers them around the world – that’s some pretty fun make-believe.
We decided to address Santa the same way we do unicorns, faeries and talking, singing animals – let her decide the point at which she is no longer able to suspend her disbelief. Let her be in the driver’s seat. In this age of TV, computers and savvy preschoolers, we don’t think this will last very long. We try to only allow for the good parts – presents, cookies, good will. Although, we’ve had to do some damage control – she told me the other day how bad she was and how that meant she was not getting ANYTHING from Santa. My heart broke a little, so I hugged her and told her that she was good, even if she made bad choices once in a while and that I thought Santa would understand.
But the lies! Yes, by not telling her that Santa is a big lie, we are perpetuating a myth, but frankly, I am okay with that.
I will give you a parallel example. My daughter believes in unicorns or at least talks about them as if they were real. If, during the course of her make believe play, her dad or I said, “Sorry, darling, unicorns are not real,” she would probably cry. We would never do that. I don’t know if she actually believes in unicorns. She has asked me roughly 5,000 questions about them. “Where do unicorns live?”, “What do unicorns eat?”, “What does unicorn poop look like?”…most of the time, I say – “I don’t know, what do you think?” or “I imagine that they eat really tasty foods” or “unicorn poop is probably round, but not as stinky as lion poop because unicorns don’t eat meat.”
My point is, she is very smart. She will eventually realize that unicorns aren’t real. I am not going to burst her bubble. The same goes for Santa.
So, for now, Santa will visit our home on Christmas Eve and unicorn poop will stink. However, I draw the line at the Elf on the Shelf – that dude is creepy as fuck.
Featured image credit: ndanger
Beautiful kid credit: Steph, all rights reserved