Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Clauscientious objector- thinking it through (b)

As an imported and more recent narrative the Santa story has done outstandingly well. The magic of Santa Claus is every persuasive. Many of course are happy with this innovation and are ambivalent about past narratives that involve more religious aspects of Christmas. The truth is the Santa narrative is suited to our materialistic and secular Australian environment.

Greg Melleuish has observed,that most Australians are only seeking
to lead quiet, comfortable and prosperous lives
and that (based views expressed in a book by Pierre Manent, City of Man,in Australia
“the desire of the mass is not so much to pursue the good as to escape the bad.”
The Santa narrative pursues these values relentlessly. No wonder Santa Claus is such a hit.

As an aside I wonder whether this is a contributing reason for the increased tension in relationships at Christmas time. The heightened expectation that Christmas is about escaping the bad is often unrealised. Imagine if the Christmas narrative was about dealing with the bad and not about escaping from it or ignoring it.

My argument has been (for reasons stated above) that I don’t support the Santa narrative.The truth is I am I am already signed up somewhere else. So convinced am I of a different narrative around Christmas that I think that promoting Santa is like trying to promote the recent election results of the Australian Democrats, as the main and compelling news story of 2007. Then exitedly inviting people to the after party for the “real” celebrations. Feel free to go ahead but why spend all that energy and time?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Clauscientious objector- thinking it through (a)

It is hard to imagine that Christmas could have ever happened without Santa Claus. Imagine the outcry if it was suggested we have a Christmas without Santa-“it just would not be Christmas!” For at least 4 century’s, after the first Christmas, Santa's distribution network did not exist, and even after this it was much smaller than it is today.

A quick search of the Internet reveals that Santa Claus in his present form has only really been popular for the last 100years. I know that some will object and point the 4th century Bishop Saint Nicholas of Myra
"who was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes."
I know also that there are many other countries where the Santa tradition has had its various forms for more than 100years. I also appreciate that there are many who try to rescue the current day Santa by pointing back to these traditions, but my observation is that the Santa narrative in its current and persuasive form has not been around that long.

Just how persuasive is evident in research that was conducted in the United Kingdom.

"The story of Jesus appears to have been rejected by kids in favour of Santa, with only 8% of children now associating Christmas with religion.

A survey by media buying agency MediaCom TMB asked 1,200 eight-to-16-year-olds to nominate one or more of five options as the thing they most associated with Christmas. Presents topped the poll, followed by family and school holidays. Religion (8%) only just beat TV, which racked up 7% of the vote."

to be continued... (if you know of better Australian research please let me know)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Clauscientious Objector-Reason 5

“What did Santa bring you?” For us and our children that has always been a difficult question, the answer is usually –“nothing”. It is not the expected answer and as a parent I am conscious that my position as a clauscientious objector not only causes problems for me but also for my children. There have certainly been times where I have been tempted to enlist in the Santa Clause army-I would just be easier and I have no desire to see my children hurt.

But even with this simple question I am reminded why I persevere. With this simple question, the gift becomes the focus not the act of giving. This is only natural, not only is a quest for material prosperity highly valued in our society but there is not an established relationship between the giver and receiver. When there is an established relationship between the giver and receiver, the gift and the act of giving are both in view. To know that even if my parent/s are not economically prosperous they have sacrificed to give me a gift because I am loved, whether I am good or bad, is far more a mystery and a far richer expression of the act of giving. It invites me to value the gift very differently. It teaches me all manner of things about grace, love, generosity and good will to all people.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Clauscientious Objector-Reason 4

As part of the overall Santa experience children are encouraged to write lists of what they wish/pray Santa would bring them. Parents love these lists as it gives them ideas for what “Santa” might bring. For other parents though, these lists are just another conformation that they are unable to live up to their child’s expectations or of the hopelessness of their own circumstances. Often the child is not to blame, after all they have been presented with an omnipresent, benevolent, deity like figure, who it is promised will make all their wishes come true if only they are good enough. On the other hand the parent who reveals the secret “too soon” in attempt to help a child have a more realistic understanding of what to expect can be accused of spoiling the magic and mystery of Christmas.

Now I admit this may not all be Santa’s fault it is hard to blame him for the deluge of child focused advertising and our obsession with material things. After all Santa’s focus is on supervising elves, being generous and the problems associated with managing a large distribution network.

I am also aware that it is not possible to rescue everyone nor is it always possible to protect me or my children from disappointments, bad decisions and or their consequences. I am just not sure that wish/prayer lists of this nature actually add anything to our lives.

A Clauscientious Objector-Reason 3

The other day I found myself singing
Oh! You better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town!
He's making a list,
He's checking it twice,
He's gonna find out
who's naughty or nice.

This catchy Christmas song highlights some concerns I have with Santa. In this song Santa Claus is called to act like some type of omnipresent deity overseeing children making judgments on their rightness or wrongness. I am glad that he has such clear view and I wish he would share it with me when I am in the midst of parenting. But I am left with questions. What does Santa think is right and wrong anyway and do I really want my kids to think of him as someone who administers justice? My problem is that in the end Santa’s justice is a facile kind of justice. There is the threat of judgment (not receiving gifts) which is never enacted. I am told this is not a good look for a parent so why perpetuate it?

What is just as concerning is that being approved of by Santa, or being good, is a perquisite for a gift. If you don’t believe me stand in a shopping queue a day before Christmas and listen to the conversations with Children. I have lost count of the number of times my children have been asked if they have been good enough for Santa to visit. Of course added to which for many of us as parents the allure of saying “if you don’t behave Santa won’t come” is all too powerful and we find ourselves down the dead end street of manipulative parenting. Some ideas that come with Santa Claus are at the best dubious and at their worst manipulative. Reason 3 for being a Clauscientious objector.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Clauscientious Objector-Reason 2

"White lies". I have made a commitment not to lie to my children. Now I am not saying I have not lied to my Children or that at times I have been a little less full in my explanations of the truth. As a parent I have had to apologise for not being truthful. There is a difference though between imaginative play/fairytales and collusion between adults that leads to untruthfulness. Rituals like putting milk, cookies and a carrot out for the supersonic delivery sleigh are delightful rituals but have as their intention a desire to deliberately mislead by making the myth as believable as possible.

I have found that even though I am a Clauscientious objector many parents try to enlist my help and seem offended when I don’t join inthe "white lie". Older children are also enlisted to perpetuate untruthfulness so that younger children do not discover the truth about Santa. A number of adults I have spoken with vividly remember the moment when as children they revealed “too much” . The emotional turmoil that followed as a result of being in trouble for having told the truth, they tell me was a pivotal point in their development as a person.

In my view this embrace of untruthfulness only invites us into the world of mixed messages about the value of truthfulness. Perhaps I should just get over “white lies” but my conscience just won’t leave me alone.

Do you have a pivotal point story?

A Clauscientious Objector-Reason 1

As a child growing up in a developing country Santa Claus never visited me at Christmas time. I did not know he even existed for some time. Perhaps this oversight of my parents and Santa Claus himself has led to a deep resentment unresolved by hours of gestalt physiotherapy, that is possible! My own conclusion is that being third culture kid gives you opportunity to stand back and question the world differently.

Does the promotion of Santa Claus promote economic inequality? It seems the rich white kids always get the most expensive gifts from Santa Claus. Certainly the need to enjoy the season has led many Sydneysiders to spend thousands of dollars on professional Christmas house decorators so they can have bragging rights over their neighbours. That of course may not be Santas fault. Perhaps as a corrective there is room here for Santa evangelists spreading the “good news” so that rich and poor are treated equally. I can see our retailers lining up with glee.

Perhaps the promotion of Santa Claus is disrespectful of other cultures? In multicultural Australia my observation is that the Santa obsession injects an unnecessary dose of western materialism, secularism and mythology into an already complex situation. There is a clear and unspoken expextation that those eager to adapt to their new found home will embrace the man in a red suit with as much delight as many of us do. Those who object will find it hard to do so without causing offence.

There are many things about our culture that I think are worth adopting and promoting but I remain to be convinced that this is one of them or even that I lacked something in my childhood by missing out on Santa Claus. Does this sound a bit too PC (politically correct) ?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Clauscientious Objector

Santa Claus is coming...or has arrived numerous times if you have been anywhere near a shopping centre this Christmas. With cheerful grin and iridescent red suit Santa Claus brings joy to the hearts of so many parents who delight in their children’s smiles and excitement. The story and rituals also give us that sense of mystery and remind us of our more innocent times of imaginative play. It is hard to envisage anyone objecting.

At the risk of being harangued and called a scrooge I admit, I object, I am a Clauscientious Objector :) .

I am aware that there are many responses to the issues surrounding Santa Clause and some are more nuanced than others. There are those who have banned Santa in his current form ,there are those who are more accommodating,those who try and recapture the past Santa Claus, there are those who acknowledge him but seek to reduce his influence and there are those who seek to promote him. My response as a clauscientious objector is to acknowledge his presence but not his right to dominate our Christmas or even be a major feature.

Naturally my objections are not to the sense of excitement and joy that is experienced by parents and children. Nor are my objections aimed at promoting the early embrace of asceticism or rationalism
or for that matter denying the gift of imagination. The reasons I object to being enlisted into the army that promotes Santa Claus vary and some of the reasons I admit are more personal than principled. The posts that follow will outline some of my reasons.


What I hope to do over the next week is unfold a short article that I have been working on. My article explores a dimension of Christmas that has never sat right with me. One of my aims is to be reflective, articulate my position but aviod moralism.