It’s Christmas! What a wonderful opportunity to incorporate critical thinking and skepticism into your child’s life. Rob and I have always been adamant about raising our children with the knowledge that Santa, the Easter Bunny, Cupid, Leprechauns, and the Tooth Fairy are not real; they are amusing characters that go along with holidays and special moments throughout their life. It’s fun to pretend that the Easter bunny hides candy-filled eggs in the yard, that Cupid brings you boxes of chocolates, or that Santa comes down the chimney to deliver toys to good little girls and boys, but we are also careful to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
I must warn you though; critical thinking can come with a price. My oldest daughter learned this the hard way a few years back while playing with another little boy and girl her age, siblings who we will call “Jack” and “Jill” for storytelling purposes. The conversation went something like this:
Jack: Reindeer can fly.
Zoë: No they can’t.
Jill: They can fly because of Santa.
Zoë: There is no such thing as Santa.
Jill: Yes there is. What about St. Nick? (eluding to the religious figure)
After going back-and-forth for a while, Zoë went to the other room to talk to Jack and Jill’s mother.
Zoë: Do they really believe in Santa?
Mother: Yes, but I think it’s time I should talk to them about it.
The mother went back into the playroom and explained to her kids that Santa wasn’t real. Jill started crying out of embarrassment and shock. Zoë felt strange about having shattered her friend’s fantasy and how she had somehow hurt her friend’s feelings without meaning to. Needless to say, playtime was over.
Since this occurrence, our girls make it a point to be a bit more sensitive to other children’s beliefs because they are not necessarily equipped with the same skepticism and critical thinking we have instilled in our children. There are plenty of tricky social situations that skeptics must navigate, and it can be difficult for a child to know what to say when something like this comes up, but our girls have been handling it very well.
Okay, let’s move on to this week’s art project: reindeer poop. It’s not a very well-known fact, but Santa’s reindeer actually poop chocolate, so it was really easy for Rob to recreate some using chocolate chips. Rob often makes “daddy’s special desserts” for the kids, which are always an interesting, unusual, or elaborate affair. This Thursday night Rob was busy in the kitchen, coming up with his next creation. I could smell chocolate being melted. I heard Rob rustling around in the kitchen.
After some time, Rob starting asking if anyone heard the bells jingling outside, or the clomping of hooves on the roof. My girls’ ears perked up and they started playing along by asking questions and giving answers. Rob then tore open the shutters and threw up the sash…wait a minute… no that was another night. Oh yeah, now I remember: he went out the front door, carrying something suspiciously covered by a paper towel. From the front porch he shouted back to the kids inside that he had found something. He came back in carrying something that resembled, ahem, how do I put this delicately? Fecal matter on a Christmas platter. “Look at what the reindeer left behind!” he exclaimed.
I must pause here for a moment and let you know that Zoë had seen Rob creating these special yule logs in the kitchen, though he tried to work secretly. Having that firsthand knowledge, she quickly grabbed one of the pieces and took a bite. Scout, not knowing what they were exactly, smelled them and said they smelled good! They all knew Rob had been up to something in the kitchen and the smile on his face was a dead giveaway to the fact that this was not real reindeer poop. Well, that and knowing that Santa and flying reindeer weren’t real.
Call us Grinches, but the whole “lying to your kids” thing and saying Santa is real just for Christmas’s sake isn’t our idea of fun. It’s telling children that magical thinking is okay, opens the door for other specious claims, and doesn’t encourage critical thinking skills. It makes children suspicious and vulnerable, not skeptical. We enjoy all of the traditional secular holiday rituals like stuffing stockings and leaving cookies out for Santa, and the kids absolutely love it, knowing all the while that Mom and Dad are the ones making the magic happen. The enchantment of Christmas is alive in our imaginations, and that’s good enough for the Grafrath family.