The Santa Claus Conundrum

Santa ClausMany unbelieving parents have a problem with Santa Claus. Specifically, they worry that they're being dishonest with their children or deceiving them with the idea that a great old jolly man from the North Pole will bring them presents at Christmastime. Tom Flynn of the Council for Secular Humanism wrote a whole book on the subject, The Trouble With Christmas.

But what's a Freethinking parent to do? Santa and the elves and Rudolph are everywhere. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that these symbols are "secular." So atheists trying to shield their children from Santa Claus and Frosty The Snowman makes about as much sense as fundamentalist Christians trying to shield their kids from Harry Potter.

Quite honestly, we Freethinkers should give our children some credit. They're going to be able to figure it out just as we all did. And we can still be honest with them too.

When it came to Santa Claus with my own children, we read the stories, visited the mall Santas, hung the stockings, and left the milk and cookies out. We still do, even though our older children are now part of the conspiracy. But we never ever insisted on anything.

Does Santa really have flying reindeer? Well, that's what they say. That's what we were taught, right? Does Santa really live at the North Pole, Mom? I don't see any land there! Well, gosh, you're right. What do you think that means? Is Santa real? Well, what makes you think he's not? What does it mean if he's not?

We have found Santa Claus to be a lot of fun in our family. But he's also represented something of a rite of passage, a hurdle for growing minds to take a running jump over when they're mature enough to do so.

The problem is not Santa, and never has been. The problem is all those other absurdities that many people never get past.