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November 19, 2004

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kathy t

Gotta admit, I don't get it. It's not like he told them there is no God, or that Jesus is a myth or anything. This Santa phenomenon is a most peculiar form of literalism for a lot of people. But then I was never taught to believe in Santa and never taught my children to believe in Santa. And this has had some interesting consequences, like the time my four-year-old daughter and I were in the Walmart line and the clerk asked Mary if Santa was coming to her house and Mary chirped "Oh, Santa's not real, it's just mom & dad!" WELL! If looks could kill! I half expected her to reach under the counter and push the Child Protective Services Alert Button! Some of our kids have wanted to believe in Santa for a time and that was OK too; we never INSISTED or pointed out that we had no chimney in some of our houses. Bottom line, however, is: What is the point of actively teaching children that something which is not true is in fact LITERALLY true? What kind of fun is that? What kind of imagination does THAT require? Give me baby Jesus any day. OK. Annual anti-Santa rant is over.

iClaudius

Good for him. I tell my kids there is no Santa and they mommy and daddy work hard to buy them the presents they get. We do celebrate St Nicholaus day, though.

Tim F.

We put up a cardboard chimney to hang our stockings on in one of our houses. When we had a real chimney, I think I had already figured it out. It would have been a pretty tight squeeze though.

As far as what the priest did, I don't think it was his place. Parents are the first teachers. If he doesn't want the parents letting their kids believe in Santa, then start educating the adults, who were probably denied a decent religious education by the church when they were young.

Mike Wuzowski

2319! 2319!

Tim F.

After reading my last line, I would clarify that the adults were probably denied a decent religious education when they were young because the Church caused so much confusion for their parents. That's how I read my situation anyway. It sounded pretty contradictory in my first post.

Mary

I'm most disturbed by the statement:

"There's a time and place for everything, and this was not the time or the place or the age group to be talking about the true meaning of Christmas, at least in terms that young children cannot understand,' Tamberg said.

Mass is not the time and place for a priest to talk about the true meaning of Christmas????? Maybe the priest shouldn't have done it, but for the parents to get so upset and to worry about what's going to happen when they go to the MALL this year??? Heaven help us - really! My small kids (1st grade, K, and toddler) do believe in Santa, but it sure wouldn't break my heart for the older two to hear from Fr. John at their school Mass that Santa isn't real.

Also btw, Mike Wuzowski...I'll be keeping my eye on you...you crack me up.

Damian

An apology from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for trying to teach children about the true meaning of Christmas, huh. Sounds about right.

Lisa C

I haven't taught my children there is a Santa Claus, but it was a treasured tradition for my husband that he didn't want to give up. We don't make a big deal of it, but they do get a religious toy or book from "Santa" and have been told the story of St. Nicholas. I think Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny are traditions in this country that other adults have no business ruining for our children if their parents choose to pretend they are real.

Zhou De-Ming

Hold on, Lisa C.
The Easter Bunny comes to Easter Sunday Mass at my parish and passes out candies. How can anybody say s/he's not real?
I'll agree that I've never seen Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy at church (yet).

Whitcomb

I would give this priest a swift kick. There's something astoundingly cruel about destroying this fantasy for a group of captive 5-year-olds.

Sydney Carton

Well, I think it was a mistake for the priest to have taken the tone that he did. Obviously, if he wants to teach the "true" meaning of Christmas, that it's about the birth of Jesus, then he can do it in a more tactful way.

I distinctly remember that during my education in Catholic school, the priests would use the Socratic method with the kids. "What is Christmas about?" Some kids would answer "SANTA!" or "PRESENTS!" And the Priest would say, "Really? Are you sure?" Inevitibly, one kid would answer "Christmas is about the birth of Jesus." And the other kids would go, "oh yeah!"

The idea is not to call their parents liars. The idea is to present them with information that as kids they'll be able to understand. Kids definitely resonate with the baby Jesus in the manger. They LOVE the idea of the sheep and the shepards and the 3 wise men. It's just a good story with a lot of little elements in them that kids seem to find attractive. Why a priest wouldn't discuss that, and instead would basically call their parents liars by framing the discission about the metaphysical realities and theological implications of Santa Claus is beyond me....

Anson Groves

Let me see if I understand this properly . . .

Step 1) Parents lie to children about the Faith.

Step 2) Priest corrects misinformed parents and children about the Faith

Step 3) Priest is tarred and feathered.

You know what? The bishops can make all the new adult catechisms they want, it won’t do a darn thing with this going on.

How about teaching kids about the Nativity, and only the Nativity. Not some myth about a fat guy from the North Pole. If they want to tell their kids about St. Nicholas, how about the REAL CATHOLIC St. Nicholas. (www.stnicholascenter.org)

If you can’t instruct them about the Nativity and St. Nicholas of Myra when they are 5, forget about instructing them about chastity at 15, or abortion at all.

St. Nicholas of Myra, ora pro nobis!

Steve Cavanaugh

Well, I also didn't teach my kids that Santa was real...rather that it was a tradition that has gotten out of hand. Gifts are expressions of love from parents, family, friends...not a reward from a busy-body mythical North Pole resident.

Frankly, the parents who teach that Santa is real are lying to their kids, and we managed (we Christians, that is) to celebrate Christmas for centuries without having Santa the center of Christmas. We won't be able to put Christ back in Christmas while there's a fat, red-suited elf taking up all the space.

Leo

Our irrepressible youngest, now 20 (and still irrepressible) declared at four that Santa was going to bring her this and that, and I said, "Kathleen, there is no Santa Claus."

However, this bullheaded child had met a "Santa Claus" at a shoe store, a very nice and somewhat bored young man who had taken her on his knee and filled her little head with every sort of fable. So she ARGUED with me! What did I mean, she had actually MET Santa Claus, who had told her all about his elves and his North Pole, and who did I think I was anyhow??

There was no talking her out of it. All we could do was wait. But when the playgroup teacher at the Church told her that the Easter Bunny was going to lay eggs under her bed at Easter (this woman obviously would have benefited from a beginning course in mammalian biology, not to mention theology) I put my foot down and INSISTED that this was nonsense. Since she hadn't actually "met" the Easter Bunny I got away with it.

But really, this is a sensitive topic, and perhaps the priest might have been more tactful. Not all parents are as hard-hearted as I am.

Susan Peterson

I am with Kathy T. I was never told that Santa Claus was real, and I never told my children that. I was told the story of St. Nicholas (minus any any religious implications as my parents were unbelievers) and we received chocolate "gold coins" in our stockings. My father told me about getting the chocolate coins in his shoes on St. Nicholas' day when he was young in the Netherlands, so I did that with my kids.
I actually got in trouble in kindegarden for telling the other kids that there wasn't any Santa Claus, and proving that it was impossible (too many houses in the world for one man to get to..why did poor kids get less than rich kids...etc.) I was told "It's not your business to tell them that." A note was sent home, and my mother tried to teach me about tact.
I am torn about what this priest did. The confrontational crusader part of me agrees with him. I find the idea of lying to kids and trying to make them believe that story to be very distasteful. The part that my mother got to, suggests that he could have talked about the real meaning of Christmas without actually mentioning that Santa Claus isn't.
Susan F.Peterson

Henry Dieterich

What Fr. Rocha action--and the response to it--has done is to rip off the meaningless veneer that is the outer layer of most American Catholics' religion, and reveal the core of fundamental paganism beneath. As long as what is really important to these so-called Catholics is a mixture of sentimentality, superstition, and materialism--which is what real popular paganism always has been--Evangelicals will have an opening to say that Catholics are not really Christians at all.

Lorenz

Did not the whole Santa story really start after Santa (the white-bearded guy in a red snow suit we all know and love) first appear on Coca Cola advertisement just over a hundred years ago?

I was fed the Santa story as a kid and feel a little cheated by it. The true meaning of Christmas did not matter to me until later in childhood. I once spent Christmas with a family in Costa Rica and while Santa was not discouraged, the primary focus of Christmas for children (toddlers and older children alike) was the true Christmas story. The presents under the tree were for el nino (the Christ child) and there was nothing about Santa sneaking in at night to leave presents. It was a trully religious experience.

In Europe the only presents that were given centered on Santa was the celebration of the feast of Saint Nicholas.

While maybe the time and circumstance may have not been appropriate for the priest to debunk Santa, I totally agree with Anson Groves. Christmas and Easter have been largely secularized. If parents are unwilling the teach the faith and celebrate it a very early age, then they have very little reason to complain that their children do not know or practice the faith as adults.

Martin Tibby

Totally agree with Sidney.

I also believe that Santa can be used quite effectively to explain saintly intervention to children. Sure Santa Claus as he appears in our culturre is an extremely secular and commercialized version of St. Nicolas that has no relationship to Christianity, but the Church has absorbed and used secular and pagan symbols in the past.

Todd

Interesting.

First, I have no idea what a homilist is doing talking about Christmas in mid-November. It seems the crusading anti-Santa needs some lessons on the liturgical year.

Second, the parish priest is not the primary catechist for children ... unless they are his own. Of course, if he wanted to take his soapbox to a parent meeting and deal with people who might actually be able to debate the issue ... Well, I'd love to be a fly on the wall in the school auditorium on that night.

Third, I've seen firsthand for many years the quantity of food, booze, and loot that descends on rectories in December. I think if Rocha wanted to haul what presents he does get down to the local Worker House and dish out some soup and walnut cream balls for the homeless, that would go a good way toward rehabilitating him.

Zhou De-Ming

Not to read too much into Father's name, but traditionally they don't do Santa Claus in Mexico. Christmas is, I belive, much richer (in tradition and spirituality, not materially) in Mexico than the US. The Posadas, looking for room at the inn, are a great tradition. The "Pastorales" plays; the streets lined with "luminarios," the "Noche Buena" family and meals on Christmas Eve. The tamales! Gift-giving is on "Three King's Day," (Dia de Los Tres Reyes) January 6.

Who needs Santa Claus?

WRY

If we pretend that there's a Santa, what's to keep out children from thinking that we were pretending about God?


c matt

Who needs Santa Claus?!?! Good God , man - 1/3rd of our retail economy depends upon him !!!

Whitcomb

“Dear Editor—I am 8 years old.
“Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
“Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.’
“Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon
115 West Ninety-fifth Street

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

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 child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You 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.

(From the Editorial Page of The New York Sun, written by Francis P. Church, September 21, 1897)

c matt

Parochial school Mass:

Priest tells kids there is no Santa Claus.

Later that day on playground of said parochial school:

Kindergartner 1 " I can't believe the priest says there is no Santa Claus."

Kindergartner 2 "Don't sweat it. Ever since the Scandal they've lost all credibility."

c matt

Second, the parish priest is not the primary catechist for children ...

You are absolutely correct on this. However, by default, he usually ends up that way.

Fr. Brian Stanley

Gee, it must be a leap year or a blue moon: I find myself largely in agreement with TODD! A homilist can address materialism and commericialism with the kiddies, but at the proper time. As a former school teacher, I also am concerned about the parents taking fuller responsibility for the religious and spiritual formation of their children. The priest described here sounds like the bull in the china shop. His theological/moral point could have been made without even mentioning Santa Claus.

Folks, it's a family tradition. Some families have it, others who have written here obviously don't. The homilist should not be making decisions for all families that this tradition must stop, here and now, in this liturgy. He overstepped his bounds in this case, and he should be far more circumspect about preaching to kids.

Lorenz

As a former school teacher, I also am concerned about the parents taking fuller responsibility for the religious and spiritual formation of their children.

Especially in these days, parents must be more pro-active in the religious and spiritual formation of our children. With my own young children, we make special effort for their religious and spiriual guidance. We are pretty much aware that if don't do so, religious formation pretty much stops there. However, a good many parents put very little effort in this endeavor and priests are in a position where they have to pick up the slack.

Folks, it's a family tradition. Some families have it, others who have written here obviously don't.

Like I posted earlier, this "tradition" goes back little over a hundred years ago in the USA and was never practiced in any Catholic country. It has largely led to the seculaization of both Christmas and Easter.

I agree with Zhou De-Ming in that who needs a Santa Claus when there are far richer, funner, and meaningful ways to celebrate the birth of Christ for people of all ages. If we are to push back against the secular post-Christian culture it is important that we take back our religious holidays.

Donald R. McClarey

The priest gets my Grinch-of-the-Year Award! Santa is a harmless childhood fable on a par with the Easterbunny and the Tooth Fairy. My kids have enjoyed all three, and it hasn't deterred my wife and I in the slightest from teaching our children about the true meaning of Christmas, Easter and the need for dental hygiene. The war some people wage against Santa is a war against the fantasy and whimsy that helps lighten existance here on Earth. Long live Santa!

Stephen

But there isn't a Santa Claus.

So . . . who cares?

Zhou Deming

There is a St. Nicholas of Myra.

Fr. Brian Stanley

Lorenz,

I really don't care how old the tradition is -- the issue is that it's not up to you or the homilist to decide unilaterally that this jolly man in the red suit is over, done, stick-a-fork-in-him, good-bye Santa. It is darned presumptuous. I agree that Santa is a fiction, but for some families, it is a fun and relatively harmless fiction. If I might make a personal confession *whoa* here, I grew up for the first several years of my life hearing heavy footsteps on Christmas Eve whilst I lay tucked in bed, hearing the jingling of sleigh bells, and awaking the next morning to the discovery of a few cookie crumbs on the plate and the glass with just a film of milk left in it. And then I grew up to be a priest. I don't think it damaged me too much [although my parishioners and several readers of this comment box might take issue with that]. And I didn't grow up disgusted or mortified by my parents' "deception," nor did it lead me to distrust all authority or to become a complete cynic. For those who have been so severely damaged by the Santa Claus myth, I will pray for you... if YOU really exist.

Yeah, yeah, they don't have Santa Claus in Mexico or other countries. But *hello* this is America, land of the free and home of the brave. You are free to have the Santa Claus tradition in your home; you are free to omit said tradition. Yes, you can bravely raise your children apart from such sentimental tripe, omit all references to fictional characters and fantasy; or you can bravely entertain such sentimentality and fantasy for youngsters' minds. As a priest, I'm unwilling to condemn either choice as mortal or even venial sin. But to read some of the comments here, you would think that Santa Claus is worse than Harry Potter, some Aleister Crowley in a white beard and fur-trimmed suit.

Yeah, yeah, Christmas is commericialized and materialistic. But Santa didn't cause that commercialism and materialism; Macy's and Gimbel's and Sears and Roebuck et al. did. And I, for one, believe that Santa is redeemable. There are more important truths to be preached than "There is no Santa Claus." He is, after all is said and done, under all that Coca-Cola advertising campaign, still Saint Nicholas, a kind and gentle bishop, the soul of Christian charity, the patron of children (and sailors, too).

Zhou De-Ming

I grew up believing there were monsters under my bed and in my closet.

I'm mostly normal, except that I talk to Canada geese.

It would not have made a difference if every priest, teacher, etc. had told me there were no monsters. I knew there were monsters. They were very real to me.

(I now sleep with the closet doors closed, and with plenty of night-lights in the room, and there is no way a monster could fit in the little space under the bed; and I love "Monsters Inc.")

Mike Petrik

Thanks, Fr. Brian, for injecting some much needed common sense and measure into this discussion.

The state of catechisis in the US is awful and in need of remedy. Yet, I cannot imagine a goofier place to start.

Victor Morton

c matt:

ROTFL. And kudos to Whitcomb for that clever idea.


But wait a minute ... isn't "we-are-all-the-Body-of-Christ" Catholicism supposed to be the religion that understands better than contractarian, individualist Protestantism the social construction of the self and its embeddedness in circumstance. And wouldn't one expect a Catholic priest to have more respect for the prevalent social mythologies and "just-so" stories without ruthless, single-minded regard for Truth For All Come Hell Or High Water?

Fr. Brian Stanley

Victor,

I know, I know: I was a disappointment to my parents as well.

Liam

I think WRY's very telling comment is being ignored unwisely. Frankly, it is something I witnessed as a kid. Lying about Santa -- with the best and most modest of intentions -- can lead to places you don't expect or intend. Tread carefully.

I don't think this priest was being particularly untactful. The kid who asked the question was ready for the answer: give the kids more credit than you might. Kids even at 5 know something is not right with the picture. Some kids -- especially those raised in homes where honesty is a supreme commandment -- naturally start probing, and will invariably do so in the presence of other kids. You cannot protect your kids from this. It's not a loss of genuine innocence -- it's the loss of an ersatz innocence, a kind that can be quite dangerous.

Liam

And we have no way to presume that Fr Rocha is receiving oodles of Christmas loot that he normally hoards for the unneedy. That is quite uncharitable.

Victor Morton

Actually, Father Stanley, I was referring to Father Rocha, the priest in the original article ... in other words, HE should have known to show more respect for the social fabric and its accidental customs, for the particular circumstance of the minds of 5-year-olds, and found a way to defer questions of propositional truth. I'd love to hear him answer the question: "where do babies come from?" with this method. (Or maybe not.)

Karen Hanley

"The war some people wage against Santa is a war against the fantasy and whimsy that helps lighten existance here on Earth. Long live Santa!"

Exactly so. I can't believe what a bunch of Scrooges we got here. Doesn't childhood have room for innocent imaginary friends, fairytales, magic princesses, fire-breathing dragons? Wee beasties, little people, gnomes, nymphs, trolls and the like? How could anyone grow up to be a fiction writer or a poet without it?

Santa in no way takes away from the Nativity in our house and it's not even that hard to do. And funny that Fr. Brian mentions Harry Potter...he's not real at all (Harry, that is, not Fr. Brian!) and I was shocked at how many parents rang the alarm over him. Witches don't exist either, but somehow it's OK to work up a real worried sweat over them.

In the Byzantine Catholic church, St. Nicholas comes to visit - in his long, red velvet white-fur trimmed robes - and brings presents to the children at the church. And I told my children:
Saint Nicholas
Saint Ni-claus
Saint-na-claus
Santa-Claus
They get it.

And, not to change the subject, but didn't the stork just make a delivery at the Welborns?
;-)

James Kabala

Lorenz: The notion that Coca-Cola invented the modern Santa Claus is not true. See the invaluable Snopes.com for further details.
Henry Dietrich (or anyone who knows the answer): Is it really true that American evangelicals are opposed to Santa Claus, or is that merely Mr. Dietrich's evidence-free assumption? I certainly never thought that Santa was only popular among Catholics (or pagans disguised as Catholics.) I suppose that we could try to pin the blame on mainline Protestants, but I suspect that in reality, most evangelicals have a more charitable view of the Santa legend than Mr. Dietrich does.

James Kabala

A Baptist site takes a moderate view (i.e, don't tell your children that the Santa legend is literally true, but Santa isn't evil either) here .
However, another Baptist takes a strongly anti-Santa view here . The tone of his objections is close to what Mr. Dietrich would have expected, and he does link Santa, Catholicism, and paganism.
It should be noted, though, that the same author condemns Christianity Today for running a pro-Santa article, which seem to imply that the well-known evangelical magazine finds Santa unobjectionable.
In short, then, evangelicals seem to have a wide range of attitudes toward Santa, and they cannot be pigeonholed in a single category.

TM Lutas

One thing that it seems the good father has not been asked. Does he also claim that St. Nicholas did not, in fact, exist as a historical figure and his sainthood a sham? And if the current vernacular for him, Santa Clause is unacceptable, why is the older translation of his name (which was most certainly not spoken in English) into the english vernacular acceptable?

I think that Fr. Rocha has a few problems with his Christmas catechism and it's not the hurt feelings of parents that are the problem.

Liam

TM,

Your comment begs the question. Santa Claus is not simply equivalent to St Nicholas; rather, the personage of SC in US culture is an amalgam of a variety different persons, real and mythic (especially "Father Christmas"): the bit deriving from St. Nicholas of Myra is not the dominant strain, even.

Edward Curtis

I figured out that Santa wasn't "real" at age 10, without my parents telling me. (I read an article in 3-2-1 Contact, a science magazine for kids from the publishers of Sesame Street, that mentioned reindeer can't really fly.) I remember I put 2 and 2 together the night we were decorating our Christmas tree, and I took it pretty hard.

I don't remember ever being mad at my parents about the "deception"...but, if I ever get married and have kids of my own, I'm not so sure I could put them through the same thing. I take the moderate position -- I'm not opposed to telling Santa stories, as long as they remain just that, stories.

And in my not-so-humble opinion, the notion that young children can't understand the real meaning of Christmas is ridiculous; so I'm with Anson on that point. I seem to recall a certain saying of Jesus: "Let the LITTLE CHILDREN come unto Me, DO NOT HINDER THEM, for to such as these belongs the kingdom of God."

Whitcomb

Only at St. Blog's would a group of adults spend the better part of a day debating the merits of Santa Claus.

No mind--I now offer my congratulations to Amy and her husband Michael on the birth today of their son. Each time a child is born, it sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.

Godspeed to Michael Jacob!

John Hetman

Of all the tempests in teapots! Sure, I feel that Father was out of place. He usurped the parents' role. But why make a big deal over something as minor as this?

We had a third grade School Sister of St. Francis who prided herself on blasting the notions of the Ten Commandments and Purgatory out of her students' minds. The aged hippie dear from an aged hippie order was all about "Love" or "Luv" -- whichever.

Fr. Brian Stanley

Victor:

I know you were referring to Fr. Rocha. I just needed to let you know that Fr. Rocha is not the only priest who has been disappointing. ;)

I couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd check the blog to see if the Blessed Event has happened, if Fort Wayne's newest resident has arrived.

Rose Marie Gabriel

I heard about Santa Klaus when I had a Belgian nun for a Religion teacher in grade 6. At home, we do not even have decorations for Christmas. Going to dawn masses (novena) is enough for us to celebrate Christ's birth. That's the value my father left us. So Santa was not a big deal to us really.

Karen Howard

My folks managed to do Santa Claus with us without ever actually stating that he did or did not exist. We got presents under the tree "from Santa", left cookies and milk "for Santa", got our pictures taken at the department store with one of "Santa's helpers", but his existence was never more than implied indirectly. Maybe that's why we never suffered the "my parents lied to me" trauma when we grew up enough to realize that he was a fairy tale.

Actually, come to think of it, my mother was always pretty vague about all of that childhood fantasy. I think it's a pretty good approach.

tonymixan

Those on Social Security believe in good old Santa,in fact,millions of them!

Susan

It seems to me that although the priest should not have made an out and out reference to Santa not being real, what he did does not warrent some the responses that have been posted. Honestly, how many of you would want to give him a swift kick or whatever, if he did something like hold hands for the Lords Prayer, or some other small abuse we so often see in Mass- which is way more damaging to our children in the long run, then finding out Santa is not real. Wonder how many kids were even actually listening to what the priest said. I think this is being taken way out of porportion.

Patricia Gonzalez

My younger son, Tim, got into trouble in second grade when he repeated a comment I'd made about Santa not being what Christmas was all about. His teacher called me and we had quite an interesting discussion about the real meaning of Christmas. It was a head-on collision between the secular commercialism which has "hijacked" the feast of Christ's Birth and between the Christian viewpoint that "Jesus is the Reason for the Season". Sigh ... not much has changed. BTW, Susan, I'm not sure I understand why it's wrong to hold hands at the Lord's Prayer. I always thought it more meaningful when my husband and I did it. What's the basis for your statement -- just curious. Thanks.

Fr. Brian Stanley

Oh, Patricia: do you know what can of worms you open with your question about the Lord's Prayer?

Let's not get sidetracked here on the question of liturgical posture. Your question should be directed to Fr. Edward McNamara, who answers such liturgical queries at ZENIT.org. He a professor at one of the Roman universities, and his credentials in such matters are without peer among the commentboxers of Open Book.

Rich Leonardi

... I'm not sure I understand why it's wrong to hold hands at the Lord's Prayer. I always thought it more meaningful when my husband and I did it. What's the basis for your statement -- just curious.

It isn't accomodated by the GIRM for starters, and, given your statement about Jesus being the reason for the season, I suspect you may one day view it as a practice that creates a liturgical imbalance in favor of the horizontal dimension of the Mass at the expense of the vertical.

Congratulations, Amy and Michael, on the birth of your son. You'll be in the Leonardi family's prayers this weekend.

Maureen

To my mind, the priest probably was overstepping his bounds by announcing that there is no Santa. If he's Hispanic, then he also would've been overstepping his bounds to say that the Three Kings don't eat the hay the kids leave out for them or give kids presents; and since St. Nicholas gave us our stockings on December 6, my family would've been most upset at breaking it to us kids that the good Bishop of Myra did not in fact stop by then, with his namesake showing up with our presents on the 25th.

Especially since kids do figure these things out in the end by themselves. It's an important lesson in the intersection between stories, history, and religion; some stuff is pretty but just a story and sometimes real people have legends grow around them; whereas the Christ Child really is real.

(Although Kristkindl didn't really leave me presents on my desk, either, except in that He works through members of His Body.)

Oh, and anyone who thinks Santa Claus logically can't get to every house in a single night fails to realize that Santa, like James Bond, is a Timelord of Gallifrey and is fully capable of traveling through time and space to every child's house. He simply materializes a few yards from the roof with his genetically-engineered antigrav reindeer and lands. I'm not real clear on which alien race works for him as elves, or whether he simply has enough cash stuffed in his time travel-created savings accounts to be the American toy industry's biggest customer....

Maureen, who is clearly pining for the upcoming revival of Doctor Who on BBC Wales...

James Kabala

Oops! My links don't work. I don't know what I did wrong, but anyone who cares can find them easily with a search for "Baptists" + "Santa Claus."
Congratulations and best wishes to Amy and Michael.

GregK

Santa is fun make-believe, but teaching children that he's real is misguided. It teaches your kids not to trust you.

Marty

Well, in my usual squishy way I can see both sides of this. Yeah, the priest was right but it wasn't his place to tell the little kids there's no Santa Claus. My parents let us believe in Santa and my dad was a minister. But Jesus was always the main deal. But my husband's family is not religious and for them, presents and fooling the little kids into making Santa into almost a sub for God is the focus of their holiday. My husband was quite vehement that we would NOT tell our kids there was a Santa Claus and would explain about St. Nicholas instead. We also told them so kids do believe so don't go announcing to the 3rd grade class that there's no Santa, some kids can't handle it. My kids who are now 14 and 20, did say they appreciate that we didn't "lie" to them and I have always wondered, if kids are told by adults that there is this all powerful gift giver guy who sees what you are doing and them they find out adults made it all up, couldn't they conclude that there's no God either? Just a thought.

Henry Dieterich

I think I may have been misunderstood. I am not Mr. Scrooge or the Grinch. See my fuller explanation here.

Whitcomb

"Never lie to a child," ends Henry's linked post.

What responsible adult has never lied to a child?

I suspect many of you have done just that. You've shielded children from such family topics as alcoholism, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, homosexuality and so on, and at the very least told a white lie about it. I say good for you.

Would you tell children that the Uncle Joe they love was fired (again) for drunkenness, or would you tell them he simply is taking a long vacation?

Mike Petrik

I lied to my kids about Santa. As far as I can tell there was no permanent damage. They are now 22 and 19 and I asked them last night if they would do the same, and they said absolutely. They said the fun of believing far outweighed any discomfort felt upon eventually learning the truth. I don't think that Santa tales necessarily impair one's ability to emphasize the true meaning of Christmas.

And I agree with Whitcomb. The ends can never justify the means, but if and only if the means are always intrinsically wrong. But the 8th Commandment is carefully crafted to not prohibit lies in all cases. It is doubtful that this was an accident. An earlier blog debate ensued on this very question (I think it may have been Mark Shea's blog) with some very thoughtful commentators arguing otherwise, to the point of saying that one could not lie to Nazis who asked whether the Jews were hidden in your house. I don't buy it.

Henry Dieterich

As far as I know, I have never lied to a child, at least not deliberately, and if I ever did I regret it. I am fairly certain I never lied to my own child about anything important. Sometimes I have not spoken of things beyond her understanding, but I have never deliberately framed a falsehood. May God defend me from ever doing so. When I was a child we had a fiction about Santa Claus, but we all knew it was a fiction: it was still fun. I don't remember ever believing that an actual fat man in a white beard with flying reindeer actually delivered presents. As for lying to Nazis, and so on, that is a very different case. Children are not representatives of an unjust government and we cannot have a moral certainty that they will use the information they obtain to kill someone.

Mike Petrik

Henry,
Once one concedes that lying can be justified in some cases, however extreme, then one is conceding that speaking deliberate falsehoods is not, without being coupled with additional criterea, intrinsically wrong. It is as much a prudential matter as a moral one. I understand the desire to re-emphasize the genuine meaning of Christmas, but I just don't see Santa Claus as an impediment to that. And I really don't think children are harmed by such fantasies -- at least not normal well-adjusted children. And I agree with Whitcomb that sometimes charity requires a lie. I have a relative who always insists on speaking the truth (at least his understanding of it) whenever requested, He has managed to unnecessarily hurt and alienate quite a few people, including loved ones.

Once again I find myself the moderate. I oppose priests who bring in Santa for the kids at Christmas Mass (I have seen this done); and I oppose priests who take it upon themselves to destroy the harmless fantasies of little children.

Loudon is a Fool

I defended Santa Claus against naysaying youngsters primarly based upon the authority of my parents and, to a lesser extent, the culture at large (surely weather reporters would not mention a possible sleigh discovered on doppler radar if it were not true - the media never lies), but also due to a strong belief in the miraculous. Sure, it seemed impossible that one man could visit all of those homes, some even without chimneys, but miracles happen. There was no permanent damage done once the truth came out (shortly, I think, after I informed my parents I had defended their virtue against the attacks of vulgar children who implied mom and pop were liars) but I would thereafter think twice about relying upon the arms of others.

Children will eventually learn their parents are fallible, but I think I would rather discover that Dad has a 40 stroke handicap than that he chose to lie to me to preserve a myth in support of American consumer culture. But I suppose opinions can differ.

Henry Dieterich

I think the moral justification of lying in extreme circumstances involves consideration of the relative proportion of the evil to be averted through lying, just as does the moral justification of killing. That something can be permitted in certain circumstances does not mean that therefore it is good or even permissible in all circumstances. If you read my post, you would know that I have nothing against fantasies, fictions, and make-believe--but to insist that they are fact is not necessary to enjoy them. As for "charity requires a lie," I think Mr. Petrik confuses honesty with tactlessness, or in some cases, calumny. Sometimes it is good to be silent; at other times to choose one's words carefully, to put the best construction on something, or to have consideration for the feelings of others. All those things an intelligent and charitable person can do without lying. Just because Uncle Max is an alcoholic or Cousin Mildred had a child out of wedlock doesn't mean that I have to tell each new-fledged acquaintance about it; nor is it dishonest for me to deflect questions about my political views around my relatives whose allegiance tends violently in a different direction. A little study of the book of Proverbs can be very profitable in this way.

marym

If you teach your child that Jesus was born on Dec. 25 you are also teaching him a lie, Jesus was probably born in Feb or March. December 25 was chosen because it was a popular pagan holiday. But that doesn't mean Christmas isn't about Christ, sometimes truth lies beyond factoids. I remember the Christmas Eve I found out about Santa. I was ten years old tucked in bed, listening to my parents and older brothers, giggling and filling the stockings for me and my younger siblings. The sound of their happy love filled voices, happy because of the happiness they were giving not getting, I will remember always. Santa lived that night, and that night I learned that I could be a Santa too. Sometimes trying to be like Christ seems like too big a mountain to clime. Mythical figures like Santa, or real people like the saints teach us the Christ qualities on a more accessible level. To the five year old Christ is off in a faraway heaven, but Santa comes into their living room. The gifts Christ brings are invisible and hard for a child to understand, but the gifts that Santa brings can be touched and played with. But at some point when the child is old enough to understand, they realize that the gifts of Christ and Santa are the same-Love, Caring and Generosity. May we all act as Santas in our lives, because then we will be acting as Christ.

Henry Dieterich

Marym is correct, except that it is not a lie if the person saying it doesn't know the origin of the date of Christmas. We celebrate the birth of Christ on 25 December, which was picked because it was the winter solstice. (That date is not the winter solstice any more because of some changes in the calendar since Roman times.) The rebirth of light after the longest night of the year seems like an excellent natural parable for the coming of the supernatural light of the Word made flesh into our world. As it happens, the Romans (like most other peoples) had a festival (theirs was Saturnalia) about that time. Her point about the usefulness of the myth of Santa is also a good one. Would that it were presented more commonly as being about giving rather than about getting, in particular about getting as a reward! Truth is not only to be found in facts, but also in myth and symbol. Insisting on the facticity of the myth of Santa Claus obscures its real truth, which is in its meaning.

Mike Petrik

Henry,
Well then we can agree, I suppose, that the priest in question was "tactless." In any case I think that you are being impractical when you suggest that artful language can always successfully substitute for a white lie. Few people are sufficiently nimble with words to do as you suggest. In any case, "carefully chosen" words are designed to be just as deceptive.

My point stands: Scripture does not contain an absolute prohibition against lying. Lying to children about Santa is harmless fun, unless the children are somehow much more brittle than those who I know. Plainly, some parents disagree with me on this, and prefer to not take part in the Santa fantasy. Fine. But the notion that parents that do are doing something immmoral is hogwash.

Billy Dixon

The man is a priest please don't ask him lie. To many are already fearful to preach because of people that explode minor issues and will not fight for the big ones. I mean Santa or no Santa who cares? Keep your eyes aimed to Heavenly things.Rember we have much greater things to worry about, the Salvation of our children for starters.

Elinor

I don't agree at all that the priest was tactless. When did parents get the right to oblige the Church to go along with their silly lies? Santa Claus isn't wrong when it's told as a story, which the children understand to be a story and not a fact. Santa Claus is absolutely wrong when it's told as a lie, that is, told to children with the intention that they should believe it as a material fact, when the parents know it to be untrue. Go ahead and read Clement Moore's A Visit From St. Nicholas, and talk with the young'uns about what a sweet story it is. But, for Heaven's sake, don't tell your children lies, and don't get worked up when a priest tells them the truth.

Telle

Im only 17, so I can still freshly remeber Santa Claus, and all the stuff that surrounds him. To be frank, I always knew something was wrong. My parents dont have any particular religion, but they still tried to uphold some kind of fervor within me..I have a part of me reserved, because I do really want to believe in somthing, I want to forget my extreme cynical upbringing and just relax and believe... Yet I cant, and therefore, I haev decided that to lie (and it is no less than a lie) to your children is one thing..But keeping it up past thier obvious maturity will just hurt them.
If you are a good enough parent, you should see when your chld becomes more withdrawn, and therefore ready to hear the truth... And give tem what they deserve. Peace
Chantelle

Don

OK, all y'all complaining that Santa is a lie, and The Church is telling the Truth about Jesus:

If that were so, then the Mass of Christ would be celebrated in, what, April? Jesus was not born in December, that is a lie, too. Christmas was aligned with the existing pagan holiday of Yule, and so the evergreen and Yule log and on and on.

Same with Easter - Eostre or Ostara is the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring to whom offerings of cakes and colored eggs were made at the Vernal Equinox. Rabbits were sacred to her, especially white rabbits, and she was believed to take the form of a rabbit.

The same could be said of the usurping of All Hallows Eve, adding All Saints Day as a means of sanctifying this time. The thing is that we live in a world where myths and old stories are merged into a blend.

Is it bad to "lie" to children? Well, if by this you mean when they ask where they come from, you show them 8 mm sex flicks, I have to say no. Children are sophisticated, but there is a time and a place, right? So, yeah, I have lied to my kids. So have you, don't be so sanctimonious.

And, there is another side. I am happy that you believe in whatever it is you believe in, that's great. However, if you are of European descent, as am I, then I think that you should take as much pride in your history as do other groups.

Yes, yes, bad white people. Listen, kids, there have been bad people of all colors - there is plenty of shame to go around. There have been good Europeans, too. And our history is as deep as any. Celebrate your roots, and know your history!

And a happy Yuletide to you all!

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