John M. Becker

Is It Time To Ditch Santa Claus? [Open Thread]

Filed By John M. Becker | December 15, 2013 1:45 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Christmas, classism, income inequality, poverty, privilege, Santa, Santa Claus

santa.jpgThis week, I read a heart-wrenching article from the Los Angeles Times about the "Operation Santa" project, where volunteers answer kids' letters to Santa received by the post office and send the gift they request.

But this year, with a "recovery" that's leaving millions of poor and middle-income Americans behind and income inequality at its highest level in more than 80 years, the items on people's Christmas lists are often not childhood frivolities, but basic necessities. And children aren't the only ones desperate for a holiday miracle:

Bright and early on Dec. 3, the first day the program got underway, I drove to the main Los Angeles post office at Gage and Central to choose my letter. I walked into a large, decorated room where Cleo, the "elf in charge," was waiting. I expected letters full of misspelled words and little-kid grammar, asking for Legos and Barbies, skateboards and My Little Pony. I knew there'd be those who asked for phones or IPads or Xboxes, or other things out of my price range, but I figured I could find some little boy who still wanted a fire engine.

What I found were pleas from parents. A mother out of work said her family would eat, but there wouldn't be any presents. A dad wrote that his kids needed school supplies. Parents with two kids, three kids, maybe more, were hoping for help with what they couldn't provide. A dad just out of prison wanted to make Christmas special for the kids he hadn't seen for so long. A disabled grandmother asked for a church dress for her granddaughter.

I was overwhelmed. Many of the letters -- even the ones from kids -- asked for groceries and shoes, clothing and shampoo. One child wrote: "Please bring my mommy some food. She's been good this year."

But what broke my heart most of all was when I read that 90% of letters to Santa never get answered, including many written by people receiving services at homeless shelters, food banks, and after-school programs.

It got me thinking: what message does it send to the children whose letters to Santa go unanswered, whose families can't afford to put presents from Santa under the Christmas tree? That they just weren't nice enough this year to merit a visit from the man in the red suit? That Santa was too busy delivering Legos and Barbies to kids in the suburbs to bother bringing the food and clothing that their family needs?

Then a Facebook friend posted a wonderful article by Tara C. Samples titled "Why My Family Says 'No' to the Santa Claus Myth" that articulated my still-developing feelings better than I could.

"[A] pastor friend encountered a strong reaction when he accidently revealed Santa to be a myth in a small group of Christian middle school students. A young girl became emotional and her parents were angry... I wonder if her parents were aware that had she grown up in a less financially comfortable situation, she would not have been a believer of Santa in middle school. That kind of "innocence" is available only to those with resources to isolate their children from the realities of the world.

We have chosen to say "no" to Santa based on our faith, our understanding of social psychology, and commitment to economic justice... We aren't anti-Santa because of anger. The jolly old elf brought a lot of joy into my life when I believed, but as an adult I have discovered Santa's... mythology brings joy to only a privileged few...

"Santa has become the symbolic face of holiday excess and a reward-punishment cultural orientation. The mythical Santa is said 'to find out who is naughty and nice' and reward accordingly. In a culture that worships wealth, celebrity, financial productivity this message is not subtle. Children of privilege and wealth wake up to gifts, and children of economically struggling families are forced to either stop believing in the myth or grapple with the implication that they are somehow less worthy. In part due to this Santa-driven consumerism, some of my children's peers experience Christmas as a time of loss and pain."

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that when Michael and I become parents, we may very well choose to opt out of the Santa myth too. We love the holidays and will of course continue to celebrate them, but we may encourage our children's senses of imagination and wonder in other ways.

What about you? How did you handle Santa in your house? If you're planning on having children, will you go along with the Santa myth, or will your household abstain?

Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

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