The grace-driven Santa

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He’s making a list and checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty and…

Ugh… It’s such a weird way to manipulate the behavior of our kids, isn’t it?

Now, before I start, let me say that I’m a big fan of Santa Claus. When I see Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I get an instant hit of the warm and fuzzies. I grew up with the Santa tradition and to this day, I carry the fondest memories awaiting Santa and his sleigh on Christmas Eve.

But when Santa remained real (in a literal sense) to me, I definitely lived with a healthy fear of ending up on the naughty list. And, truth be told, I equated the Santa story with the God story. I wanted to stay on that ‘good’ list. And it helped calm my insecurities when I’d spot kids who I deemed to be on the ‘bad’ one.

Thank goodness I wasn’t one of THEM (or was I?!).

In all honesty, with our daughter these last couple of years, we’ve perpetuated this good/bad Santa. Why? Because it works! Want your kid to stop being a little sh*t? Tell them Santa Claus is going to find out. The behavior changes — immediately.

But here I am this season with another go-around. And I have that feeling in the pit of my stomach that just doesn’t sit well. From what I’m seeing now, there are three problems with the traditional Santa story…

  1. There comes a time when kids catch on to this tactic. And with my daughter — at five years old and already browsing the internet — this time is quickly approaching (damn you, Google, and your highfalutin information!).
  2. Unlike my childhood growing up in a conservative rural town, my daughter lives in a giant city. Kids who are less fortunate and don’t get presents for Christmas are a very real thing to her.
  3. (The biggie, for me — as I alluded to earlier:) Thinking back, as harmless as it seemed, the legend of the good/bad Santa definitely added to the binary polarization of my world. There were the ‘good’ kids. And there were the ‘bad’ kids. Hopefully, they enjoy the coal in their stocking (and even maybe an afterlife of eternal torment and damnation).

My daughter doesn’t get off so easy. Living in a big city with WiFi and having a dad who thinks deeply (too deeply?) about these things — the traditional Santa just won’t cut it.

And so, what to do with the Santa story?

How can we keep the magic of Santa alive while tying in the unconditional grace of the divine?

(She’s already equating Santa to God — she told me.)

This year, we’re going with the grace-driven Santa...

Here’s the narrative we’ve pieced together (roughly). Remember, I’m just stumbling my way through parenthood — by no means am I an expert. But maybe you can institute some elements from it in your home:

No matter what people tell you (or what Mom and I have told you in the past), Santa doesn’t discriminate based on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ (since everyone is a little good and a little bad). There is no ‘naughty’ and ‘nice’ list.

Mr. and Mrs. Santa ask their elves to make gifts for every kid. It’s just that Santa has a hard time getting to some of them on Christmas Eve. And there are some who have gates too high that are locked too tightly for even Santa to get through.

It’s an imperfect system.

But really, the gifts are the most boring part about it. The best things are (1) the anticipation of Santa on Christmas Eve and (2) helping Santa out by holding his jolly spirit in your heart when giving gifts and lending a hand to those who he might not be able to get to. We can carry that Santa spirit with us all year.

I have no idea if it’ll stick. I’m well aware that no kid gets out of childhood unscathed, but if we can keep the damage to a minimum, we’ll be happy. And if I can help her dance with the ambiguities of life while getting a sense of God’s grace through the symbolic grace-driven Santa, well, maybe that’s a story worth telling.