Santa Claus is for parents
I’d usually save a post like this for the evening, but since we’re driving out to West Texas tonight, I may not have time to write this tonight. But a few nights ago, some friends and I were talking about how much we loved the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes”, and I said I liked it when Calvin’s dad would fuck with him, as in the comic on the left. (Click to read the whole thing.) Because it is enjoyable to just tell children a bunch of lies, because how often do you get a perfectly credulous audience? This is why, I proclaimed, that Santa is for adults. Children enjoy Santa, but only because they believe and they’re getting stuff. But having participated in the Santa ritual from the other side—spinning stories about how there are hooves on the roof, putting bites into cookies left out, shoving my cousin in front of the bitten cookies when a wee one came out from her room to do that getting up multiple times thing that kids do—I can safely say that I think Santa is for adults, and specifically for making universal the pleasure of lying to children because they’ll believe anything you say. Not all of us are skilled bullshitters who can come up with cockamamie stories on the fly, like Calvin’s dad, or my dad, who told us that Parmesan cheese was made up from ground-up dirty sweat socks. Santa democratizes the process of exploiting child credulity so that any adult, no matter how unimaginative, can participate.
As you can imagine, Santa causes a lot of grief for atheists and skeptics. There was a lot of grief on Skepchick particularly, as Elyse has blogged extensively about not wanting to teach her children Santa. And of course there is—nothing causes a flamewar more than making people feel guilty about a guilty pleasure, especially when you marshal well-reasoned arguments against it that they don’t have much to say back besides “angrybullshitsentimenalgrasping”. Skeptics are often hostile to Santa because we suspect that the tradition exists to breed credulity, the kind that leads adults into believing in UFOs, Bigfoot, homeopathic medicine, and god. Certainly, many parents who push the Santa thing don’t improve the situation by actively discouraging the sort of critical thinking that leads a child to question Santa—their desire to draw it out as long as possible causes them to angrily shut down a child who is asking too many questions. (Other parents, to be fair, use Santa to encourage critical thinking, by encouraging children who have questions to follow through with them. I know when I was a kid, I figured out that Santa wasn’t real through a 5-year-old’s critical thinking,* and my mom is proud when she relays this story.) Elyse had other reasons for why Santa is problematic, pointing out that the economic downturn means a leaner Christmas, and it’s hard to explain to children why Santa got so stingy all of a sudden. I’ll add Kevin Smith’s objection that he explained on his podcast—he said he resents Santa, because Santa gives all the good presents, and therefore Santa gets all the touching gratitude from his daughter.
But it’s not just atheists and skeptics that have objections to Santa—many Christians do, too. (Obviously, the whole question tends to be contained in the communities that celebrate Christmas, which means mostly Christians and non-believers with Christian backgrounds.) Austin’s post on Santa is from an atheist viewpoint, but he brings up some problems with Santa that Christians should also worry about, such as Santa fostering materialism. Also, many Christians are uneasy with Santa because they consider him a secular figure who overrules Jesus, who merely brings salvation and not a new bicycle. A friend of mine wrote an essay recently about why her parents—her father is a minister—didn’t bring them up to believe in Santa, and in a mirror to atheist objections, her parents were concerned that Santa encouraged atheism. After all, if it turns out that Santa is just a myth, then god’s next on the chopping block, right? I have to say that this was a good point, because a good deal of atheists-raised-Christian make easy comparisons between god and Santa.
None of this is to say that I strenuously object to Santa. I’m not a parent, and it’s not my place to say one way or another if you choose to engage in what is a relatively harmless tradition. But I do think that I’d like the whole thing a lot more if people quit spinning self-serving tales about how Santa is there for the kiddies. I realize that parental sadism is not P.C., and so in order to engage in it, parents have to convince themselves and others that it’s for the kids’ own good. But I say fuck that. Parents wipe asses, give time-outs, worry about nutrition, lose sleep, and get kid germs. Parents deserve a little payback. Santa may not be great for kids, but it’s great for parents, and that’s reason enough in my eyes. Just so long as the parents admit it. Not everything in this world has to be for the children, and people who think that everything in the entire world should be sculpted around the raising of children to be good people are, at best, tedious bores and many of them run the risk of writing tedious letters to the FCC because Bono said “fuck” at the Grammys. Perhaps having a little fun with the kids at the expense of the child’s credulity isn’t the worst thing in the world. What’s bothersome to me is playing it off as something it’s not.
*I figured there was no Easter Bunny because bunnies can’t carry shit due to hopping around on 4 feet. From there, Santa was easy enough to see through.