Guest Author - Terrie Lynn Bittner
Santa Claus is a tricky issue in many LDS families. Parents who strive to tell the truth to their children aren't sure what to do about this bearded man in the mall. Does he belong in our family celebrations? What about our church Christmas party?
I began researching this article by typing the word Santa into the search engine on the church's official site, LDS.org. I found one hundred references to Santa in the Ensign, but no official announcements. There were several articles in which the Santa issue was debated, but none of them contained an official opinion either. It appears this is a personal choice for each family. (But do your own search to be sure.)
I've never considered lying and imagining to be the same thing. I love imagination, and our house was always full of invisible friends: the one I had as a child, the ones my children had at various times (and nothing has changed–I still have an invisible friend!) We read books that couldn't possibly be true and imagined things that could never happen. It didn't seem to harm anyone's faith. I think we were able to keep the fantasy and the religion separated successfully.
I gave a lot of thought to Santa and how to cope with him. I knew there were a few issues to consider. First, how would I keep him a fantasy and not a lie? Secondly, how would I explain why some children get lots of gifts from him and some get none at all? Third, what would I do with Santas at church? The solutions I created worked for me and might serve as a starting point for other families to imagine their own solutions.
As a person who cherishes the imagination, I wanted Santa in our home and I felt I could have him and still manage to teach, through him, some important gospel principles. I began by creating the Santa I wanted to share with my children. I looked into Santa's beginnings as a Catholic bishop so I could share the story. Then I prepared to tell my children about Santa's life now, always presented in my Once Upon a Time mode, since I love to tell stories. Santa lives in the North Pole now, devoting his life to making and gathering toys for children. However, toys cost money and Santa has no other job. He relies on others to help him gather the toys. As my children became interested in Santa, I pointed out Giving Trees in our community and various toy drives. I also said that those of us who could pay for our own toys did so, to leave more money for helping children whose families were poor. This made it easy for me to limit the number of gifts or to say we can't afford something they wanted. Yes, Santa could pay for it, but it would take toys from the poor children. In fact, we worried so much about those other children that we did our part to help them as well, allocating a portion of our Christmas budget to buy toys for others we did not know.
As for church parties, I rather wished Santa hadn't come, but I decided not to worry about it. We'd just deal with that the same way we did everything else once the time came.
Eventually, of course, every child gets suspicious. When my children asked if Santa was real, I asked them what they thought. When they said they believed he was real, I smiled and said that was their answer. When they said they weren't sure, I told them to think about it some more. Once they said they did not believe, I told them the truth.
We went where younger children could not hear us and I told them the story of the first Santa and how he became a legend. I explained that one of most fun parts of Christmas is giving gifts to others without telling anyone, the way we did for Sub for Santa. Parents liked to secretly give too, and not take credit for the gifts their children received, so they pretended they came from Santa. Santa was the person everyone gave the credit to so that they could do good works in secret, as we were often asked to in church. He was the Christmas version of Mr. Nobody.
Mr. Nobody was my invisible friend as a small child. He did all the naughty things I was blamed for and the secret good things as well. He re-emerged in our family when my children were small and often got blamed, accompanied by giggles, for those good and bad deeds that no one was willing to take credit for. My children understood this concept.
As the big reward for figuring out who the secret gift givers really were, the child was invited to creep back out of bed on Christmas Eve when the others were asleep. For one year only, this child got to help be Santa, filling stockings, assembling toys and arranging the tree. His own toys and stockings were done before he came out, of course. In exchange, he could never tell anyone his secret, since all children had a right to believe in Santa just as long as they liked, just as our children had been allowed to believe in their invisible friends as long as they liked. In later years, when there were no believers, all the children got to play Santa.
In our house, this was one of the rites of passage that moved you into the adult world, and so it never had a sting. The fun of being Santa that first year showed them why parents liked to imagine about Santa. They enjoyed being "in the know" and they enjoyed even more our Christmas giving through Sub for Santa programs. I felt he helped us to teach the principle of compassionate service given without credit. My children are all teens and adults now, and none feel scarred by having believed in Santa. He was just a normal part of childhood, just like Mr. Nobody, Kandy and Kristen (invisible candy makers), Pink Elephant and Rainbow Girl. And none of these wonderful "people" who helped shape our home for many years are really gone.
They're just waiting for the first grandchild to arrive.
I Believe in Santa Claus