I wish there was some way we could all get on the same page before my kid meets your kid in the fall term of first grade. Because when my kid hits school he’s going to be in for a rude awakening. He’ll find out that children who believe in Santa are real.
I know you can’t make too many plans about child-raising before you have an actual kid. When you are thirty and childless, one of your main jobs is to dwell extensively on the things your parents did which you’re going to do differently, but there is at least one thing I’m going to do exactly like my parents did.
My parents never made a big deal out of Santa Claus. Oh, we hung up our stockings and they were as lumpy as the pull-out couch on Christmas morning. Even the pets had their own hand-decorated stockings. But I was never under any illusion that anyone but my mother was filling them. At a young age, I became the warden of my mother’s stocking, hands down the largest in the whole family.
This doesn’t reflect on the quality of my childhood imagination. I would spend hours every week inventing epic stories that I silently told to myself. I drew, painted, sculpted, crafted or wrote almost every day. But I was also a pragmatic kid who always wanted to know what was real and what wasn’t. I loved observing and assembling facts about the natural world.
When I encountered an adult who seemed to think that I thought Santa was a real guy who stole into the house on Christmas Eve with butterfly socks and waxy chocolate coins, I smiled and played along. Even as a kid, I thought Santa had more to do with adults’ sweet fantasies about their children than the children themselves.
I say if you want your children to have the experience of believing in someone they’ll never see, there’s always Christ. (Assuming your kid doesn’t put a piece of cinnamon raisin bread in the toaster one day and spot an eBay-worthy image of Jesus when it pops back up).
There are tons of great reasons to let Santa be part of the Christmas landscape without letting kids believe he’s actually bringing them presents, from letting kids in on the fun of filling family members’ stockings to forcing parents in line at the grocery store to develop a coherent strategy of parenting that doesn’t involve threatening kids with coal on Christmas morning when they throw a tantrum in July.
But intrepid right-wing pundit Megyn Kelly has given us by far the best reason of all to put Santa to bed, in her inane “Kelly Files” segment on Fox News about a Slate.com article suggesting maybe we don’t have to make Santa a white man all the time, because that might be nice thing once in a while for all the good little children who aren’t white.
Even if it makes children of color feel a little uncomfortable, it’s a historical fact that Santa is white, just like Jesus was white, Kelly insisted.
Never mind that Jesus’s lineage and birthplace don’t exactly point to the pale, blue-eyed shepherd on Sunday school altars today. Oh, and the fact that Santa is fictional.
When I read the original Slate article that stirred up all the trouble, in which writer Aisha Harris suggests that we could sidestep the whole racial issue by turning Santa into a penguin, the best part was the correction at the end of the article: “This article originally misidentified penguins as mammals. They are birds.”
Though Harris does note that a penguin Santa would need to move to Antarctica instead of the North Pole, for “scientific accuracy.”
Meanwhile, the perpetually Santa-less kid in me cries out that penguins do not live only in Antarctica; there are tropical penguin varieties too!
I guess we just have no business teaching our children anything at all about the world. We mistake white supremacist cultural myths for facts, and when it comes to facts, like whether or not a creature is a bird or a mammal, we can’t get them right anyway.
Later, Kelly tried to laugh off her absurdly racist commentary by saying it was all a bit of Christmas fun spoiled by the liberal masses, and her demeanor in the original segment suggests that she’s trying to maintain the illusion of Santa as fact just in case tonight’s audience is made up of seven-year-olds.
But like parents perpetuate the Santa myth because they enjoy watching their kids’ faith in him play out each December, and not because it’s a valuable experience for the kids, Kelly’s little Santa charade isn’t about the kids at all. It’s about justifying a crass and limited view of the world —and yes, when you go on TV to argue how important it is that a fictional character beloved by millions of American families is Caucasian (and by the way, Jesus is too), crass is probably the nicest thing you could call it. Under the guise of a little holiday zest, Kelly and her network enablers are propounding a white-dominated world — hell, a white-dominated imagination — in one of the most multi-colored countries on the planet.
In other words, “Santa is a REAL PERSON, kids (wink, wink) — therefore, it makes sense to argue that he’s white.”
Have you ever heard a better excuse to tell your kids that Santa is a fun family-time fiction? That way, it’s natural to choose an image of Santa that’s most meaningful to your family. And no-one can tell your kids that your family’s skin color does not represent the true Christmas spirit.
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