In 2001, I posted an essay on my original website, “First Lessons in Christian Science” that
became the most popular page over a number of years, as hundreds of people discovered the essay. It has not been online for a number of years, but now that I have this new blog,
I decided to put it out there again and see if it can be re-discovered.
“How I Told My Kids the Truth about Santa without Robbing Them of the Joy of Christmas”
by Vicki Cole
In the spirit of this web site, which is to help parents teach their children the First Lessons of Christian Science, I offer here my experience in dealing with the “Santa Claus” issue. In other words, should we teach our young children that Santa Claus is NOT real? Here is what happened with my family:
My mother did not find Christian Science until I was about eight years old, so my education in the traditions of Christmas was pretty much like every other Christian in America in the 1950’s. I knew Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but I also knew that a man named Santa Claus brought toys to every kid in the world on Christmas eve. The evidence for Santa Claus was everywhere: we discussed him in public school and at church. We sang Christmas carols about the baby Jesus, but we also sang songs about Santa, so he was obviously just as important as Jesus, my thinking went. Everyone asked me what I wanted Santa to bring me, and I always had my list ready. He even appeared in ads for Coca-Cola.
The real proof of his existence, is that I visited him every year at the toy department of Rich’s Department Store in downtown Atlanta. What a sight! He was perched up high, and there was even a monorail train ride to take us kids all about the toy area. I had my picture taken with him. He was real.
One Christmas eve I actually heard Santa on my roof, and saw him leave my house in his sleigh. I was in the living room with my mother and brother, when suddenly there was a loud thumping noise on our roof. The room shook with the vibration. Suddenly, a voice was heard shouting “Ho, ho, ho!” I froze in terror and excitement. Convinced by the others that it must be Santa, I was urged to go to my room, so Santa could deliver my toys. I ran to my room and sat down at my window. To this day, it is still hard to believe that I did not see Santa ride away with his reindeer in the sky. I am convinced he was there.
Now, to the day of reckoning. I do not remember a lot of details about my childhood, but I
remember this moment vividly. My anger was palpable for many years. I realize that most children have not had such harsh reactions to this moment-of-truth experience, but there are some that have. I mainly recall the smirks on everyone’s faces as my parents and my brother stood over me to tell me that Santa Claus was not real. I put up an argument, and reminded them of the night I saw him fly away from our house. My Dad, they informed me, was the one on the roof. My active imagination responsible for anything else!
Oddly, it was not the fact that Santa was not real that angered me, but the fact that I had been left out of the loop. My family had been lying to me, and now it appeared they thought it was very funny that I had been so naive to believe that Santa was real (yes, I know, this was not really their thinking — they thought it was all very cute). But, how could I trust them again? It was not a happy day. And, now I know that these scenes do not have to occur. Here is what I found later in the teachings of Christian Science.
For those of you who have read the “Other Writings” of Mary Baker Eddy in addition to our Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, you may have come across the following in the book First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany, page 261, in an article titled “Christmas for the Children,” written by Mrs. Eddy in 1905; the prose is a bit old-fashioned now, but her point still comes across:
“Methinks the loving parents and guardians of youth ofttimes query: How shall we cheer the children’s Christmas and profit them withal? The wisdom of their elders, who seek wisdom of God, seems to have amply provided for this, according to the custom of the age and to the full supply of juvenile joy. Let it continue thus with one exception: the children should not be taught to believe that Santa Claus has aught to do with this pastime. A deceit or falsehood is never wise. Too much cannot be done towards guarding and guiding well the germinating and inclining thought of childhood. To mould aright the first impressions of innocence, aids in perpetuating purity and in unfolding the immortal model, man in His image and likeness. St. Paul wrote, ‘When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, . . . but when I became a man, I put away childish things.'”
That article is included in a little book that was published by The Christian Science Publishing Society, called What Christmas Means to Me, and is a compilation of statements written by Mary Baker Eddy regarding Christmas. I was given a copy of this book by my very first Christian Science Sunday School teacher (Mrs. Terry at First Church of Christ, Scientist in Decatur, Georgia). At the time, I was about nine years old, and had already been told the truth about Santa Claus. But, I am sure I must have had a strong reaction to the above article when I read it. I had been absolutely livid the day I was told the truth about Santa.
I like to think that I would have told my kids the truth about Santa Claus on my own, but it was due to Mrs. Eddy’s request, made in the article quoted above, that gave me the courage to go against the tide of humanity, and figure up some way to tell my twin girls the truth about Santa, without taking away from them the joy and magic of Christmas time that other children would be experiencing. Here, below, is what I did — and now that my girls are in their teens, I like to think that my effort was successful. No one had to lose his or her integrity or trust, and everyone got to enjoy the holidays. I think my plan could be dubbed “The Santa Game,” although this phrase is certainly used by others in a variety of ways.
Starting with the first Christmas that my girls were able to understand what I was saying, I gave a little speech on the weekend after Thanksgiving. I gave the same speech, only adjusted to their age or what they already knew, over the next few years, until it was no longer necessary. This is the essence of it:
“The month of December is about to start. Every year at this time, people who love Jesus, like to
celebrate the day he was born. It is called Christmas. You will see special decorations and lights and Christmas trees everywhere. But what I want to talk to you about is a man that is called “Santa Claus.” First off, Santa Claus is not real. He does not really exist. He is part of a game that everyone plays at Christmas. We all pretend that Santa is real, just for fun. We believe that he lives up in the North Pole and that he rides through the sky on Christmas eve in a special sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. His job is to deliver presents to all the children of the world. But, this does not really happen. Santa does not bring presents. The presents are given to the children by family, or others, who love them. Everyone pretends that certain gifts are brought by Santa Claus. This is all a game.
“Now, there is one big rule to this game,” I would point out emphatically. “You must not ever say to anyone during this time that Santa is not real, especially little children. Some parents like to tell their children that Santa Claus is a real man, and we do not want to spoil that for them. But, everyone else knows that it is just a game we play at Christmas. Okay? Do you understand, so far? Just for fun, we will play the game, too, and for the rest of the month we will pretend that Santa is for real. Christmas is really about Jesus and how he brought the light of God to the world, and you will learn more about that as you get older.”
Every year I would deliver a variation on this speech, and then we proceeded to enjoy our holiday. I cannot recall my daughters ever complaining about their Christmas being ruined because they knew the truth about Santa. Actually, it wasn’t so clear if they actually believed me. One year, after I delivered my annual speech while we were riding in our car, one of my daughters turned to the other and said skeptically, “I’m not really sure Mom knows what she’s talking about!”
The victory for me was that I never had to lie to my children, and I never had to retract any statements. I did not have to build fantasy worlds to convince them each year that Santa was real. I merely had to let them know it was a game, and not the truth. For most children under five, there is a fine line between fantasy and reality anyway, and so they were quite willing to join in a game of pretend. We could all enjoy December without worrying that the “truth about Santa” would accidentally slip out.
Does this completely accord with Mrs. Eddy’s request that “children should not be taught to believe that Santa has aught to do with this pastime“? Maybe not, since we still included the “Santa game” in our Christmas celebration. But, for me it was a workable compromise, and a relief that I did not have to risk losing my daughters’ trust. Or, having to put Santa above the Christ.
I think I finally saw for sure the success of this method for my family, when the subject of this essay came up one day at the dinner table. It seems that neither of my teen daughters remembers anything about this “game.” I was momentarily stunned, thinking, “oh, no, they are going to make a liar out of me!” But upon further questioning, it came out that they just do not remember being told that Santa Claus was either real or not real. They don’t even remember exactly what presents they got (keep that in mind when you’re budgeting gifts for the little ones!).
What that says to me is that my children did not have to go through the “trauma” that I did when being told the truth about Santa. Little children can handle the truth, as long as they don’t miss out on any of the fun and joy of Christmas, which is WAY more than believing in a real Santa Claus.
Whether or not you decide to try this “Santa Game” with your own children, it is still the precious gift of Christ Jesus that we must teach them about and celebrate all through the year.
Copyright 2001 and Rev. Copyright 2005-2015 Vicki Jones Cole
This essay originally appeared on the Website “First Lessons in Christian Science” in 2001.