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Our Emancipation from Santa Claus (and other myths)

By I. Weisernau ~

I have asked questions since I was a child. I never really believed in Santa Claus, since I had two older brothers who dispelled me of that before I had a chance to believe it. At the same time, it didn't add up in our family anyway. We grew up in a family of very little means. We often got maybe one or two presents for Christmas in a good year. We learned young to be vague about that when other kids asked. The first time we went to school and other kids asked us what we got for Christmas and we answered that honestly, we were treated with fascination or pity. Some kids got that look of shock on their face. Others told us we had been ripped off. Both of those reactions just hurt. We learned how to be vague after that. If I got a doll, it became "some toys" and if I got a sweater it became "some clothes." It kept us from standing out like a sore thumb. I would say that poor kids learn the truth about Santa much sooner than wealthier kids. Such families cannot afford to maintain the myth and it falls by the wayside.
A&P, COFFEE, SANTA CLAUS (Photo credit: George Eastman House)
I am an Agnostic. It feels so good to say that. It took a long time to get here, not necessarily to be it, but to admit it. I clung to faith in God all through a painful childhood where we were nerdy kids and often bullied. We wanted sanctuary. We wanted to know that someone with some real power was keeping score, and that the injustices we felt would one day be set right.

I clung to it through church-sponsored college, though I always felt detached as I tried to blend in. So much of it seemed arrogant, illogical, expressing love insincerely. I started examining the character of God in the OT, and it made me uncomfortable. A professor explaining the treatment of women in the OT told us, “That’s just the way it was.” As if that was supposed to comfort us. Pat answers rarely do, since they are without substance. Genocide. Child Sacrifice. Misogyny.

My mother and father were religious though not fanatical, and they were at different points on the religious spectrum. As a teenager I confided in my father that I didn't believe everything in the Bible was true, and he said he didn't either, but that if I told anyone else we would be treated as heretics and it would be bad. We live in the Bible Belt. Others may disagree, and if you grow up Agnostic/Atheist from birth, maybe there are few negative effects on your life when people know that. Here it does feel to us as though Christians are keeping score, and one of my last times I sat through Church, I got to hear disparaging remarks about Agnostics and Atheists. I love how much time is spent on disparaging those who aren't in proportion to planning how to really get out there and help people. Oh excuse me, convert people and blow them off if they won't.

What led me here, like a lot of people here I suspect, took place over many years. I stopped trying to fit in, or make it fit, because I got fed up by some of the ridiculous things I heard. Rigid non-forgiving behaviors toward others mainly. Followed by mindless rituals carried on without questioning. Then I read books about the Bible. Not apologetics. And the facts speak for themselves. I have read in several places that people have said their departure from the Christian faith came when they really started reading the Bible for themselves and allowed themselves to really question. You have to care about the truth. Many people are comforted by delusion.

And you can’t un-ring that bell. I read more books and listened to “Letting Go of God” by Julia Sweeney and realized this is me. I am not a Christian anymore. I am moral. I am not a Christian. And I can’t go back.

My husband reached that state-of-being long before I did. I still remember when he was fed up listening to the teachings of a flavor of the month bestselling preacher in a Bible Study. He kept his cool as long as he could, then informed the class that he thought this preacher was ‘smoking weed’ and left. He had doubts already, this just sent him over the edge. He has not attended since then.

It took me longer. I hung on despite doubts. I think more out of fear. Now we are in the same place.

We never wanted to raise our children to believe in Santa, or the Tooth Fairy, or any of those myths even before we became Agnostics. Our school system teaches it like its part of the friggin' curriculum. Relatives kept asking us not to do anything to disrupt their pursuing the Santa Claus myth with their children. So we felt caught in the position of letting our children think it without ever stating it as fact ourselves. To dispel this idea with them would have made them pariahs within the school and with their relatives we felt. What a horrible place to put others in. It is essentially “We want to lie to our children, and we want you to do the same. We will bear a grudge if you don’t.” It wasn’t easy for us to navigate that.

I am an Agnostic. It feels so good to say that. It took a long time to get here, not necessarily to be it, but to admit it. I clung to faith in God all through a painful childhood where we were nerdy kids and often bullied. We wanted sanctuary. We wanted to know that someone with some real power was keeping score, and that the injustices we felt would one day be set right.This year we told our children the truth about Santa. And the Tooth Fairy. And the Easter Bunny. And you know what. They’re okay! They’re just fine. And it felt great!!!! One thing that showed them is that they are allowed to notice when they are told something which isn’t very credible. That is a valuable survival skill at the least. We want them to know we are “straight shooters” with the truth. The only part I hate is we had to explain that not every one is comfortable with the truth, and they need to keep this to themselves for now. (We know a family who made the choice not to raise their children with belief in Santa. Their son informed neighbor children and they had to deal with a serious disagreement. I’m just not ready to rock their world like that. Working on it.)

We are working on the God thing. I confused them, teaching them to pray when they were young. We used to go to church. At family gatherings, we sit quietly through prayers out of respect for those we love who still believe but my daughter still wants to pray. And where we live, it seems the Christians are keeping score. There is no effort to keep church and state separate, and we have to protect our children. So we are injecting our beliefs in as we can, until we can have that honest candid talk with them. We are truly concerned for their well-being if we did that now. I hate that. I wish we could move but we can’t. Present economy and all that…

We have come out to our families to some degree. My remaining biological family members know. My mother keeps conveniently forgetting it, but she forgets a lot of things due to a medical condition, so I just have to let it go. I do express my views however. Some of my extended family members don’t know. I am honestly concerned that a relative may not react well and limit my children’s time with his child. He is about as devout a believer as you can imagine. My husband’s family suspects. They are also devout. So it is a strange existence.

Surrounded by Christians (some of whom are friends) and keeping it to yourself is hard. Anyone else dealing with that? Or have you dealt with that? Any words of wisdom? I respect the beliefs of others. I don’t want to be militant. Just want to be who I am and live by my conscience and not out of fear. I want that for my children as well.