Santa? Imagination? Wait. How religious are you?

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A popular topic in mom’s groups these days is the realm of imagination in our toddlers.  Some philosophies suggest that it is harmful and has lasting effects on a child’s psyche to expose them to fantasy play prior to the age of reason. The argument is that until they can distinguish the difference between their imagination and reality, children will only  be confused by “make believe”.  I’ve heard mothers express their concern with this premature exposure leading to increased nightmares, fears,  or obsession with fantasy characters. While this poses a valid question for us moms, I personally hold the opinion of the old proverb, “everything in moderation”.

This is just my two cents, but I think that a healthy imagination is completely normal for children. Eventually, around that age of reason we all understand that certain things are make believe and I wouldn’t say that any of us were scarred or emotionally harmed by “growing up” and discovering that the tooth fairy was really Mom & Dad (was anybody?).

Imagination and fantasy play produces more creative individuals, and in a sense, may help children (and adults) grasp the harder realities of life to understand. A professor at Franciscan University always use to say in his evangelization class that you need an imagination to grasp your faith, and that you should use it when you pray. Obviously not in a silly way, but he has a good point. There are lots of things in our faith: angels for instance, that we have to imagine. If we don’t learn how to use our imagination and are constantly grounded in the actual, physical reality of what we can grasp with our senses our Catholic faith would be ridiculously hard to accept and imagining things would be difficult without prior practice!

It is of my opinion that most atheists are so “grounded” in reality and reason that they are able to easily talk themselves out of the existence of religion, because they cannot believe something they cannot see.  Atheists cannot logically reason the mystery of the Eucharist, the existence of angels and demons and the fact that there is a heaven because to them it is  “make believe”.  It is categorized along with fairies, unicorns and the Easter bunny. (In watching “Expelled-No Intelligence Allowed” this is how one famous atheist, Richard Dawkins, argued against religion.)

Not only do I feel imagination is good for children, but in a sense practically necessary. Our world is built on the talents of imaginative people. People who embrace creativity and are able to dream of different possibilities or outcomes for various situations. Skyscrapers, military executions, stories, toys, technology, art, and practically everything we encounter in life is derived from an exercise of the imagination. Could fostering your child’s imagination possibly lead to the development of a more creative, talented individual? Is there a chance that their confidence could blossom since they are lauded for the stretching of their mind? Husband and wife psychologists & Yale professors, Drs. Dorothy &  Jerome Singer  world renowned for their studies on the effects of imagination during the pre-age of reason stage in children. They have concluded,

“A childhood rich in fantasy play thus lays the foundation for an adult life that is rich with not only imagination and a sense of playfulness but also with adaptive skills that are useful and necessary for dealing with a complex society.”

The Singers further go on to explain that developing your child’s imagination can strengthen their verbal, emotional, coping and imagery skills. They stress that indeed, imagination is critical in a child’s development for this is the way children learn to cope with different emotions or problems they face.

“When a child’s range of make-believe is too limited, he is more likely to focus on extremely narrow fantasies, leading to distortion of later reality. Sociodramatic play-pretending to be other people in various social roles- is really preparation for facing complex realities, and a child’s imaginative anticipation of numerous situations prepares him or her to respond effectively to these realities.”

So, in short, I suppose I disagree with this philosophy of restraining imaginative play until the age of reason.  I don’t know how many of us adults were confused upon the exit of our imaginative childhood years. For me, I feel like it just naturally faded out and I didn’t think too much of it otherwise. How many of us were truly devastated to realize the Cat in the Hat was not real?

In the end, it is truly all up to each parent’s comfort on that topic. I just think how do you cap that train of thought once it is started?  If no fantasy then how can I let my daughter play dress up as a princess? She’s not really a princess…or how can I let her make her dollies talk to one another? They’re just dolls…How do we read our children fairy tales ? It seems to me that it potentially could become quite a runaway train. Obviously, I am not encouraging allowing your child to indulge in cartoons, fantasy books or “make believe” to the point where they are lost in the oblivion of pretend. Simply, everything in moderation. I  think a great point is made by one of the nation’s most esteemed pediatricians,  Dr. Sears, on encouraging an active imagination:

“Your child has a long life of reality ahead of him…let them enjoy being a child”.

In regards especially to Christmas and oh my word: SANTA. Let me just say that hoopla which surrounds this  topic in Christian circles is appalling. Apparently it’s the caliber that fellow Christians measure each other by, whether or not you lie to your children. It proves how religious you really are, or orthodox of a Catholic you are.

It’s sickening. Really? This is a little bit nit-picky and puritanical. Reminds me a lot of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Isn’t it also defeating the point of the season, which is one of charity and Christianity?

I put my Christmas lights out and tree up the first weekend in Advent, that’s what we do. My Grandpa died suddenly when my Dad was 12, two weeks before Christmas. Christmas was his favorite time of year, and he loved decorating with lights. So I grew up fully aware that we decorated for my Dad, who wanted to remember his father during that season. It’s possible that other people have their own reasons and ways and still manage to do penance in another, more private way during Advent. Why though do we make it our business to judge outward appearances?

As for Santa. I have no problem carrying on the tradition as Jen mentioned, because that’s what we do. And I do think it’s fine, and entirely an topic that is way more non-threatening of an issue than it’s made out to be. For me, there are bigger fish to fry. And bigger issues to over analyze.

So what about Santa? It’s not real. It’s a fake. It’s not what Christmas is about, right? It’s lying to your kids, isn’t it? Santa is….well… bad. Isn’t he?

By being so rigid in your grip on imagination, you’re dancing with a very Jansenist and Calvinist viewpoint. Jansenists and Calvinists hinged on scrupulosity. They viewed the world as bad, and all things of the world as evil. But Catholicism holds that the world is good, and many things in the world are good and can be used as windows to our faith. We need our imagination to grasp the mysteries of our faith.  Our Catholic faith hinges on the Eucharist,  an enormous mystery of faith that we must use our very imagination to believe in. As  Deacon Matthew MacDonald says,

“We are called to be faithful, we are called be holy, and we are called to perfection. And perfection requires creativity. Santa Claus (Saint Nicholas) emulates Christ to us. In his humility and generosity, he shows us why Christ became incarnate. Our salvation is not something that we’re owed- it’s a complete and total gift that we do not deserve. He makes Christ touchable to us.”

How could it be summed up better? I love the famous words of the editor of The New York Sun in reply to a letter written by Virginia O’ Hanlon:

“Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.”

He goes on to make a beautiful point

“The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.”

Who says we can’t use the spirit of Saint Nicholas to open our children up to a greater reality, that they cannot seen nor explain: our Faith, the angels, the Eucharist? Our faith in an incarnational faith, its rooted in our traditions and our culture. These things in our culture can be windows into who Christ is. The window shows us what we can strive to perfect in our own lives: generosity.

I ask you, does Santa come to your house? Or as we say here to our kids “The spirit of Saint Nicholas”?  The spirit of Saint Nicholas is none other than that of love, generosity and devotion. The spirit of Saint Nicholas comes to this house and I am most certainly willing to bet that it comes to yours too.

“You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

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12 thoughts on “Santa? Imagination? Wait. How religious are you?

  1. Ugh. I’m so tired of this debate. Of course, I loved this post and agree whole-heartedly with you, Am. It just occurred to me that the brilliant “Dear Virginia” letter was written how many years ago? 100? So the silly debate was going on then and it’s still going on now! But we still do Santa Claus for all the same reasons as we always have. Sure things are more materialistic these days, but Santa has been around longer than modern day materialism and he certainly transcends it.

  2. Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
    ~G.K. Chesterton

    When we lose our sense of wonder and childish imagination, we lose all of our hope and dreams to live anything more than a mere mediocre life. Santa Claus is real, not because he is a fat dude in a red suit that isn’t lactose intolerant. Santa Claus is real because he is an image of the Supreme Giver of Gifts, who can give all the children of the world the Perfect Gift in a single night.

  3. Thank you Annemarie for this post! I think you make a good point in the article-separate from the issue of whether you agree or disagree about telling your kids about Santa. People have fallen away from the Faith because the incarnational element has been distorted-either through a moralization of the faith (a remnant of Jansenism/Scrupulosity) or through reducing the faith to mere sentimentality and entitlement (a remnant of Modernism). Things in Culture whether they are religious or not are important to our encounter with Christ-to Faith. This was highlighted big time by Pope Benedict XVI in his reflections on Faith, Liturgy and Culture. It is through this Incarnational element – seen in the life of the Church through the sacraments and her teaching but also reflected art, music, beauty, and fairy tales whether remotely religious or not- that we encounter Christ. That is why so many people from our generation and other generations over the past 50 years have left the Church. They cant see Jesus with them in the places, events and people their lives. They don’t know how to be who they are-who God created them to be. They hunger for God, for the Supernatural, for the transcendent mystery of our Catholic Faith. When this is not given to them they turn to earthly things and fall into the trap of sin and addiction. We all struggle with this to a point in different ways. Point being is that the Santa Claus is a debatable issue that is a non essential. What is essential to the New Evangelization and the Restoration of Catholic Identity is recovering the incarnationality of the faith. When they are able to attune their hearts, minds, and souls to Christ through the incarnationality of the Faith, we are able to see him and touch him and know and experience His saving grace, love and mercy.

  4. How is this statement charitable?
    “In regards especially to Christmas and oh my word: SANTA. Let me just say that hoopla which surrounds this topic in Christian circles is appalling. Apparently it’s the caliber that fellow Christians measure each other by, whether or not you lie to your children. It proves how religious you really are, or orthodox of a Catholic you are.

    It’s sickening. Really? This is a little bit nit-picky and puritanical. Reminds me a lot of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Isn’t it also defeating the point of the season, which is one of charity and Christianity?”

    I, for one, am deeply offended by this statement and I am sure you know why.

  5. Elizabeth, I understand why you are upset but I know for a fact that Annemarie did not write this article in specific reference to you or to personally attack you. (This happened almost 7 years ago! It’s in the past!) She was trying to address to a general mindset she has encountered among faithful Catholics that she disagrees with and thinks is uncharitable. Christmas is about Christ period whether you like Santa or not or whether you tell your kids about him or not. Perhaps she could have used a different tone that was more sensitive. Yet just as bad and judgemental of a reaction is the insinuation that telling your kids about Santa is a lie, sinful and unChristian. In the end this issue is about a non de fide prudential decision that one can agree to disagree on and still be a Good Catholic. Its good to discuss these things but there are bigger fish to fry. I understand the reaction against Santa but the bigger problem is the Materialism and Secularism that pervades the Christmas season now a days. I posted this because despite Annemarie’s bluntness, I think she raises some valid points that we as Catholics have to come out of our comfort zones, not be afraid to dialogue with others in a empathetic, respectful way (especially if we disagree with them) and not focus on petty issues and trying to obtain petty victories (which she was not trying to win nor was I by posting this article on Facebook0. So lets Keep Christ in Christmas and in our Hearts, whether we choose to tell kids about Santa Claus and use him as an “icon” of Christ or not.

  6. Pingback: What sells more than controversy? Poop. | A.Thimons

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