The Missing Santa & the Empty Manger

The holiday is past and my living room looks like a grenade went off on Christmas Eve. There are jumbo legos and composition notebooks strategically placed throughout the house just waiting to trip me up as I shuffle past them in the middle of the night. Our holiday was sweet, our time together was very satisfying even though it was short. This year we celebrated on the 24th because I had to work the 25th. It wasn’t the greatest thing to miss the Tiny Prince’s first Christmas, but we are used to working holidays and we just move the celebration to another date and carry on establishing new traditions with our young children.

Our humble little tree.
Our humble little tree.

This was the first year that the Princess was old enough for us to have to approach the subject matter that makes the holiday. We have been having occasional discussions about what exactly we would tell our kids about the meaning of the holiday and this year we took a baby step forward to launch those discussions. Of course, the Princess is only 2, and a young two at that, but she is very bright. I know we are biased here, but she really is a sharp child. I knew that we would introduce the concepts to her and our nontraditional stance, I just hadn’t planned exactly how.

I came home from work one morning a few weeks ago and the Princess loudly announced to me that the sitter had told her that Santa was bringing her presents! She was so excited, her little face beamed and it was as if she could hardly contain herself. I paused. Ok, well, here it goes. I guess it was time for “the talk”. I knelt down so I was eye level with her and started; “Princess, honey, Santa is not real. He is pretend just like monsters are pretend. Santa is just a fun part of Christmas. Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, and Grandpa are actually the people that give you presents”. I was surprisingly anxious while I was waiting for a reaction from her. “Oh. Yeah. Santa’s not real, Mommy. Santa is just pretend. But he’s gonna bring me presents!” Hum. I am not sure if we got anywhere with this first discussion, but at least I set the tone. Over the weeks approaching Christmas though, she bantered on and on about how Santa is going to bring her presents, and she seemed genuinely excited about it. Sadly, I felt guilty for correcting her from time to time, reminding her that Santa is just a fun, pretend part of Christmas. The S.O. (Significant Other) mentioned to a few coworkers our decision to exclude Santa from our holiday tradition and he was met with gasps and utter shock. It is as if we are depriving her of some given right included in her childhood experience.

Our Princess and Tiny Prince.
Our Princess and Tiny Prince.

Besides, removing some of the commercialism from the holiday leaves room for more valuable holiday traditions…. like baby Jesus and the manger. Right? Wrong. Not in our house. This is the first holiday in my life that I have refused to celebrate the birth of the lord. How could I possibly do such a sacrilegious thing as removing “christ” from christmas, you might ask? Simple. Because I no longer believe in him. I do not believe that celebrating this holiday means I have to acknowledge Jesus’s birthday (which, might I add, is argued by historians to have actually occurred midsummer). I do not believe that this holiday belongs to the christian movement. I recently listened to a great podcast on The Thinking Atheist detailing the origins of Christmas and debating the hold that christians seem to have on the date. (did anyone else notice my hyperlink? yesssss. I am getting better at this). I am for damn sure not going to indoctrinate my children with the same. So when I say that we are raising our children to be critical thinkers, I very much mean it. Children are gullible and incredibly impressionable, if I told her that Jesus walked on water, magically transformed five  loaves and two fishes into a meal for 4,000, and that on the third day he was raised from the dead, she would believe it. She would also believe me if I told her that the sky is purple and Snow White lived with 7 dwarfs. She will believe anything we teach her. Because she trusts us. Because she relies on me as her parent to give her all of the relevant information she made need to function in this world. I am not going to indoctrinate her in such a way that she loses her ability to discern reality for folklore and science from bull shit. I am a skeptic, and although I cannot determine the final beliefs of my children, I can teach them to be skeptical, logical thinkers.

Standing by these ideals, however, is not without challenge. I had my eyes opened to the opposition we will face throughout our lives. I am not just talking about pro-santa and apostolic holiday influences, I am talking about influences in general. The Princess is barely two years old and up until this point people around her really didn’t have that much of an influence on her outlook. What I mean by that is that this is the first time I have ever had Princess come to me with an ideal or belief that was planted by someone other than us, and that differed from the choices we want to make as parents. The baby sitter, although ever so innocent and well intended, planted a seed in our daughters mind that seems to have taken root. In the grand scheme of things I don’t think that her fascination with the idea of santa at the age of two will make any impact on her life. Thats not the point I’m trying to make. What I am saying is that we have come to that place in her development where she is very much susceptible to information and influence and we are now challenged with a new chapter in this book called “Growing into Parenthood”. We must now learn how to process, and in many instances, counter the messages that our children will be bombarded with throughout childhood. Its not our intention to shelter them, put them in a bubble, or protect them from information, but rather prevent the ideals that we are so strongly opposed to from taking root and inhibiting their ability to think critically. I will write more on this subject in the future because this is a highly important topic to me as I have been working through my own de-conversion.

Our first holiday season as a family of 4.
Our first holiday season as a family of 4.

So in summary, this holiday was monumental for us in multiple ways. We shared our first holiday as a complete family of four. We enjoyed time with our West Coast family, cherishing the time we have here, fully aware that this may be our last holiday on this coast. We had our first  compassionate, healthy Christmas meal by eat plant-based, even if it was from a local restaurant. We enjoyed the idea of Santa and elves, reindeer and magical chimneys while all the while holding to our convictions. Even more notably, I had the courage to celebrate a holiday with an empty manger and an open mind.

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