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December 23, 2012

Question:  Should parents allow children to believe in Santa Claus?

The spiritual origins of Santa Claus are found in eastern Orthodox Christianity, in the Greek bishop of Myra (modern Turkey), the generous gift-giver, Saint Nicholas. But regardless of the historical origins of the saint, mythical and folkloric figure, let’s look at Santa’s faith dynamics for children, in light of more informed, mature faith.

In the 1947 award-winning film, “Miracle on 34th Street,” child actress Natalie Wood’s character, Susan, was raised by a no-nonsense, myth-busting, successful department store personnel supervisor, Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara). Doris raised Susan to reject the belief in Santa Claus, on the grounds that it set up children for future disillusion.

The result was that little Susan lacked hope, enthusiasm, imagination and any childlike sense of fun. Although she was only a child, her attitude was already that of sceptical, bored adult. In other words, Doris’ “realism” was robbing her child of childhood. True to the Hollywood ending, Kris Kringle/Santa Claus (Edmund Gween) came through and saved the day and Susan’s childhood and her mother’s relationship.

Viewed positively, the belief in Santa Claus favours certain expectations in children that appeal to their pure, open and trusting hearts. These heart-felt feelings can certainly do no harm. They can even prepare the ground for a later, more mature adult faith experience. Kids can experience Santa as a living model of humanity, loving-kindness and generosity.

As they grow up, the children will naturally abandon belief in Santa. But if parents have sown the seeds of real faith in their children’s hearts, the children will know in time that what was appropriate for a child’s world does not suit adult faith. Even so, what Santa represents to the innocent, believing heart of the child can go on serving a humane spirituality for a lifetime. Although some will argue that childhood is no time to indulge belief in childish things, why would wish-fulfillment, wonder, loving-kindness and generosity be antithetical to adult faith?

Rather than suppressing the symbolism of Santa in the child’s world, why not let it flower for a time, as a precursor to adult faith, which is based on strength, rather than childish innocence?   
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen December 23, 2012
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