Santa Claus, the Miniature Jesus
This Christmas season, I reflected on the tradition of Santa Claus and what it meant in a religious context, especially conservative evangelical Christianity that I was raised. Though I was not indoctrinated with the idea that Santa Claus really existed, it wasn't until this year that I made the connection that such an early indoctrination could set up kids to misunderstand belief, faith, evidence, sketipicism, and begin to believe based only on authority.
For example, how are kids taught to believe in Santa Claus? It is introduced to them by their parents -- people they trust and admire and follow unquestioningly (kids are too young at that age to begin questioning parent's inherent wisdom) -- and then the continued deception is carried on for several years. Additionally, the parents have the help of their school, the mall, the postal service (postal workers posing as elfs or Santa Claus!), Google Maps (the Santa Tracker), Hollywood (many a movie teaches that the unbelieving adult who disregards in the existence of Santa Claus is a shmuck and is taught the lesson that they "just need a little faith and Christmas spirit") and other families to perpetuate that Santa exists!
Fast forward a few years when the child is old enough to learn that Santa doesn't exist (don't forget that learning early that Santa doesn't exist is a tragedy in some households!!) -- at this point, the magic is broken and it makes sense that the child turns to belief in something else -- in this case: religion.
If this seems far-fetched, let me expand on my own story. Growing up, I remember a fascination with mystical dragons and monsters. Imagine my amazement and wonder when I learned about real life dinosaurs which quickly displaced my fascination with dragons. Here was something that was more real and tangible and held more exploration than the fiction I had consumed up until then.
I see similar parallels with belief in a magical gift-giver.
In religious households, the experience and wonder of Santa Claus can be easily be replaced with a wonder and adoration of a mystical Jesus.
Secondly, this doesn't even begin to cover the myriad of wrong things one has taught their child by adopting a fanciful obsession with Santa Claus in the forms of skepticism and belief. The numerous hoops one has to bound through to actually make belief in Santa Claus work, becomes an exercise that the child may later put to use in belief in other ridiculous ideas -- like conspiracy theories, astrology, alternative medicine, etc.
What's the point of this post? Well, I'm not decided. However, I am decided less extraneous belief on circumstantial or shoddy evidence is a good thing. Do kids a favor and teach them how to actually form educated, formulated, articulate beliefs. Don't just brainwash them to believe something because it feels good, an authority figure taught them, it made sense, or they like the idea.