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Rethinking Santa Claus

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Celebrations & Traditions

If you embrace Santa Claus as part of your family’s holiday tradition, it’s possible you might want to give the “jolly old elf” a personality make-over. If Santa at your house has become mean and crabby, helped in spying on children by a new sidekick, the “elf on the shelf,” it’s time to remember the spirit of the season and restore the old guy’s charm.

There’s a bit of a philosophical divide here. Following one line of thought, Santa Claus is the representative of a judgmental God, bent on rooting out sin and punishing wrong-doers. This is the Santa who keeps a tally of children’s behavior all year long. He then awards coal or candy on Christmas Eve, depending on the worthiness of a stocking’s owner.

Following the opposite line of thought, Santa Claus is the representative of a loving God whose guidance takes an especially gentle approach for children. This fellow understands that children make mistakes. He also understands that children develop best when they are assured important people love them. This Santa would never think of giving a child a lump of coal for Christmas. This Santa can be trusted to be a nice guy.

Most parents agree Santa Claus is a positive person. If Santa is part of a family’s celebration, he is almost always portrayed as a happy, smiling, loving guy who is nice to reindeer and generous to children. But there has been some slippage in Santa’s image. Many parents hint that Santa’s love is conditional. They park a toy elf in the home where it can “watch” children’s good and bad behavior and then report back to Santa Claus before he loads up his sled.

Santa’s good reputation has been tarnished  by extortionist threats delivered in his name by moms and dads who are out of better ideas.  If anyone deserves coal in a stocking, it is parents like these.

Now, as the holiday winds to its grand finale, take a long look at your children and their behavior. Notice that kids get excited and do things without thinking. They do this because they haven’t yet developed the sort of self-control adults have or an appreciation of the consequences of their actions. Notice that being a parent means helping children with this development by guiding their behavior in ways that don’t undermine the parent-child relationship. Trust is important. Do nothing to destroy your children’s trust in you.

So, as children this week get over tired and over wrought, take a deep breath. Make adjustments without making threats. Keep this up all the way through the holiday season.

You don’t need an elf on the shelf. When you keep Christmas in your heart all year long, you keep alive the very best of Santa Claus.



© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.