Naughty or nice?

We protest mightily to any possibility of our lives being spied upon, traced, monitored, and kept track of.  We want our whereabouts to be kept private and our comings and goings to be off the grid.  For many, imagining that the government, big brother, or any other external entity has the ability to observe our every move is a chilling prospect.

So it is puzzling to me why the same doesn’t always hold true when it comes to what we tell our children.

“You better watch out.
You better not cry.
You better not pout.
I’m telling you why,
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!”

Yes, these are the lyrics to a well-known Christmas tune, one which is being sung over and over and over again to many children this time of year, especially in the few weeks leading up to Christmas Day, the day that the fat man with the white beard and red coat slides down the chimneys of all the houses in the world to give gifts to those boys and girls who have been good.  You know, those special children who have earned it and who deserve it.

And apparently the monumental job of keeping tabs on the do-gooders and wrong-doers has gotten too big for Santa.  Now he has elicited the assistance of an elf, an elf who sits on a shelf inside the homes of families around the world and reports back to Santa on a daily basis who is being naughty and who is being nice, which, as we all know, has a direct correlation to the amount of presents, if any, children stand to receive.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of the jolly old fella and enjoy the magic and wonderment his character brings to the holidays.  I’m just wondering, could our children be given a better opportunity within which to understand what gift-giving is truly about?   Do they need to be spied upon, their choices tallied up by an elf who sits on a shelf, and their actions judged so harshly by this mysterious man who visits once a year and his loyal round-the-clock sidekick?   How do we expect our children to grasp larger concepts like a nonjudgmental God when we continue to throw ideas like a judgmental Santa Claus at them?

Isn’t one of the main reasons we struggle so much in our relationships because somewhere along the way we have been taught that in order to get something, we must give something or do something or be something?  We withhold our love when we think we are not receiving the love of another.  Maybe the best gifts we could give to a child are an appreciation for the gift of life itself, a deeper knowing of why we are all here in the first place, and the experience of giving and receiving in the spirit of love and compassion instead of one that is mired down by the heavy weight of consumerism and laced with lofty expectations.

If we tell our children that if they don’t behave, Santa won’t bring presents; or if we tell our children if they don’t straighten up, the policeman will take them away to jail; or if we tell our children if they aren’t good, God won’t let them into heaven, what is the underlying message we are really conveying to our kids?

(Lisa McCormack is a Feature Editor at The Global Conversation. She is also a member of the Spiritual Helper team at www.ChangingChange.net, a website offering emotional and spiritual support. To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)

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  • Christopher Toft

    When i was a child,my mum invented invisible helper “Faries” that helped Santa spy on us to make sure we were good. They were even colour coded. Mine was “Green fairy” & my two brothers had a blue & a red one. I can vividly remember imagining green fairy watching me & how horrified it made me feel. It’s a total misunderstanding of love & the spirit of christmas to frighten children into behaving as we want them to. But then so do most religions.

    • A friend recently shared with me that her daughter said it was “creepy” that Santa was “watching her all the time.” Oftentimes we get mired down in the traditions that are passed along generation to generation without really putting any thought into the message we are truly conveying. And isn’t this Santa guy the same one we make our children sit on his lap, even over their fear-filled protests? The fear we have created, by the way, with the whole “better be good” logic drilled into their tiny heads.

      You hit the nail on the head, Christopher, when you said “It’s a total misunderstanding of love & the spirit of christmas to frighten children into behaving as we want them to.” I couldn’t agree more with that observation. Thank you, as always, for being here.

  • Terri Lynn

    Wow, Lisa, very good point. I never looked at Santa Claus that way but you make a very good point. We are not teaching our children love by judging them. It sure seems we have a long way to go! Thank you for sharing your insight.

    • Hi Terri! I love Christmas, the smells, the lights, the food, the spirit, and, yes, even Santa. But I get hung up on the aspects of Christmas that continue to produce the same fear-filled thinking that organized religion does and the frenetic pace of consumerism and the mess we have made of gift giving as a society. It feeds into the shallowest piece of who we are and what we believe. Last year we, as a family, chose to not do a gift exchange. At all. The reason being we simply did not have the money. It was a challenge to change the way we had “always done it.” But Christmas came and went, and none of it mattered. It was all okay. Life proceeded forward. And the appreciation and gratitude and respect that we had for each other at the end of the year won out over imagining there was anything material we could buy that could even come close to expressing that same level of appreciation, gratitude, and respect. I am so glad you are here, Terri!

      • Terri Lynn

        Hi Lisa,
        I totally get and agree with the whole not giving gift idea. In 2011 three of my four immediate family members were unemployed. I had been out of work for twenty-two months! (hence the time to write a book!) That Christmas we had a $20.00 gift exchange. Everyone bought one gift and we each received one gift blindly. We had a beautiful day and enjoyed each others company. My time with family is the best gift I could ever receive.
        If I were to raise my children again I’d have to rethink the whole Santa idea. You pointed out such a good point about how we are teaching our children to judge.
        As Christmas approaches this year I have a different perspective due to your insight, Lisa. I am so glad you are here! Thank you.