Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Christmas Love

Sorry about breaking out the guy in the red suit so early this year.  Seems to get earlier and earlier.  Half a century from now, people will be giving up Christmas cookies for Lent.  But I digress...

I have a confession to make:  I never loved Santa.  Don't get me wrong here.  I loved to get presents.  I certainly appreciated the big guy stopping by with a stash of toys, but I didn't love him.

That's not to say that I had something against him either.  I wasn't creeped out by the thought of him omnisciently watching over me.  After all, that's what God was doing too.  Nor was I scared that he could enter into everyone's houses in the middle of the night without waking anyone up.  Nope.  My parents didn't have a problem with it, so why should I?

I simply just didn't love Santa.  I didn't love Santa, because I didn't have a relationship with Santa.  He sneaked in, dropped off the gifts, and covertly left.  Our family didn't even leave milk and cookies out for him.  I never wrote him letters telling him what I wanted, and I never wrote him letters to thank him for the gifts.  He never wrote me letters either.  I didn't know how to use a phone to call anyone, but he never called me.

Santa was a stranger; a very generous stranger, mind you, but a stranger none-the-less.

This created a rather strange dynamic.  Someone I didn't know stopped by reliably once a year to shower me with gifts in secrecy, without any kind of relationship or return of gratitude.  And he did this with all the kids I knew!  With that kind of consistency, the endorsement of my parents, and the abundance of evidence, I had to accept that it was normal behavior for his special case.

Oh, it was a very beneficial system, but it was hollow.  There was no relationship and no love, so there was no real meaning, aside from knowing that I would get new toys every year.

I don't really remember when I stopped believing in Santa.  There was not an eureka moment.  I think it was a combination of overhearing conversations, leaked information on TV, and recognizing the handwriting on the gift tags.

It wasn't earth-shattering either.  I didn't get angry at my parents for lying to me.  In fact, to some extent it made me appreciate my parents even more because I then knew that they were the source of the gifts.

I didn't feel the need to tell my sisters, or anybody, about my discovery.  With every parent perpetuating this illusion, and every kid believing in Santa for a time, it seemed to my like a harmless right of passage.  There was no point in me spoiling the mystery for others.

You know where this is going, right?  ;-)

In my teens, as I began to develop a maturity of mind enough to explore my faith in God, love became a hanging point.  Like we find in Matthew 22:37 below, we are called to earnestly and actively love God:
Jesus replied: "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’"  NIV
I didn't make the comparison at the time, but I was having the same issues loving God as I had with loving Santa.  I went to church, and always treated the church with a reverent respect.  I went to the youth group. I prayed from time to time.  It seemed to me as though I was putting forth an effort to be with God and talk with Him, but I never heard back in any discernible manner.

I never felt a relationship, and without a relationship, there can be no true love.  At least by my definition of love.

God, and Jesus for that matter, were like Santa, at least to me.  God was a stranger, a generous one, given the promise of an eternal blissful afterlife, but a stranger none-the-less.  Only this Stranger was demanding love.  The only evidence seemed to be that everybody around me believed in God.  There was no annual, reliable, tangible gift session to at least stoke the fire of faith.  You just had to wait it out.  You had to die to get the promised reward.  And before that, you had to love.

When I first had these kind of thoughts, about the lack of a real relationship, that wasn't enough for me to doubt my faith in God.  My parents didn't have a problem with faith, so why should I?  I just thought someday, someday I will hear from God.  I just need to be patient.  I just need to be patient.  It may take longer than a year.


  1. Only God knows a person's heart, so I can't tell you why you never heard back from him when you were "putting forth an effort" to talk with him as a teen, but I can tell you this: Becoming a Christian, despite what's taught at many churches, does not happen when you decide you'll "sign up" because all your friends have done so, or because your parents want you to, etc. It's a decision that involves a willingness to give all that you have--your very *life*--to God. I'm not saying that you were or weren't willing to do this, or that you were or weren't sincere in your desire to follow God. Just mentioning that it's the most significant decision a person can make, so if your attitude toward it was at all casual, then that's what was wrong.

    BTW, I didn't love Santa either. I'm not a fan of lying to kids and telling them that a big man dressed in red delivers presents to the billions of children in the world all in one night, as just about every parent in this country does. And we wonder why our students have fallen way behind in science! ;-)

  2. Thanks for your insight, Mr. Wallflower. I'm thinking of going over my deconversion history more in this blog, perhaps even in the next series of posts, so you'll be able to gain some more insight on where I was coming from.

    When everyone else is doing Santa, there's a peer pressure aspect to perpetuating the myth. You have to consider whether or not your little ones will go around popping other kids' bubbles if you tell them that Santa is fake. Plus, there is a kind of good-hearted fun to the myth, even if it is a lie.

    If I was a parent today, I think I would side on telling my kids the truth, but I can see the seduction for keeping up the Santa thing.

  3. I'd definitely be interested in hearing more about your deconversion. I've appreciated many comments you've made on D'Ma's blog and thought I'd come over here to read a few of your posts.

    BTW, we are doing the whole Santa thing, though we were reluctant at first. Our 7 year old just figured it out but he's keeping his knowledge to himself as he doesn't want to spoil it for his younger brother. I've come to see the Santa myth as a way of joining children in their imaginations and pretend play to make holidays esp. magical and memorable. It really is a rite of passage when a child develops the cognitive skills to figure it out and shed part of their early childhood. We wanted our son to trust his ability to reason things out, so when he recently insisted on us telling him what he knew to be true, we went ahead and informed him that we were Santa. He was saddened, but happy that we'd still be giving him gifts!

  4. Couple related posts:
    (1) My son understood his sister's continued belief in Santa.
    (2) Like you, understanding the lack "personal relationship" issue was a big part of my deconversion. But we should note that this is uniquely an evangelical position and not held by many denominations/sects. The idea of a personal relationship is not found in Christian scriptures.

  5. @DoOrDoNot
    Thanks DoOrDoNot. Stay tuned!

    I can't fault you at all for doing the Santa thing. My inner kid would want to do it because, as Sabio points out in his referenced post, pretending is pretty fun. :-) As you suggest too, I can definitely see it as a learning experience; a sort of controlled proving-ground for them to come to understand that things are not always what they seem, and sometimes that's OK. :-)

    (1) Exceptionally well-handled with your son. Kudos!
    (2) Very true. I had grown up in the Methodist denomination, and there, or at least in the particular Methodist churches I had attended, there wasn't a strong drive for a personal relationship with God. My exposure to that concept came from televangelists and radio preachers. Still though, there is the Scriptural call to love God, and that seemed to me to require a relationship, regardless of what the church is teaching.

  6. @DoOrDoNot: That's an interesting way of looking at it ("I've come to see the Santa myth as a way of joining children in their imaginations and pretend play to make holidays esp. magical and memorable"). I just can't get past the fact that it's being dishonest to one's child. But it doesn't ever seem to cause any lasting damage, so maybe I'm overreacting.

    @Sabio: That last sentence has me thinking. Maybe the Wise Fool, in his great wisdom and foolishness, will do an exhaustive study on the issue. I'm just too exhausted. . . . But it's definitely worth looking into. BTW, I read your "personal relationship" post and made a comment.