I’ll start with today’s painting first – Caravaggio’s Doubting Thomas. I love Caravaggio’s incredible realism, from the trademark wrinkled foreheads to the open wound in Christ’s side. Ironically, the painting is a masterful illusion (it’s really just paint on canvas after all) about those who rely too much on their senses. Thomas had to see to believe. In fact he had to feel to believe. But does touching the resurrected body of Jesus really make Thomas a believer? Or is he just a skeptic with evidence?
When our first child was born (and perhaps even before), Ken and I had the big “to Santa or not to Santa” discussion. We both agreed that we never wanted to lie to our kids, under any circumstances, and it just seemed wrong to make an exception for an elf – even if he had been an elf who loomed large in our own childhoods. Some of my siblings have talked about the disillusionment they felt when they discovered the truth about Santa and how this shook their faith in parental honesty. I never felt that way at all. If anything, when I found out what they had been up to, I was blown away by the years of effort and selflessness it took for my parents to maintain the myth. Perhaps there was no enchanted sleigh or flying reindeer, but my parents worked some serious magic to buy presents for 9 children on a teacher’s salary and keep it all a secret for as long as they did. Being a selfish, manipulative mother myself, I doubt I could ever pull it off even if I wanted to. I strive to keep my kids keenly aware of every sacrifice I make on their behalf. No way am I going to let anybody else – especially a make-believe somebody else – take the credit.
Ken and I have told the kids that Santa Claus is a wonderful symbol of generosity, but just a symbol. We remind them that some of their friends may believe in Santa so they should be careful not to spoil things for them. We also try to downplay the material aspects of the holiday and focus on the spiritual ones. In the end, I have been surprised at how easy it has been to simply leave Santa out of the picture. We don’t mention him. The kids don’t seem to miss him. And Christmas morning is still full of delight, stockings, surprises, and presents out the wazoo (so much for downplaying the material). One thing I do love is that my boys are more excited to see how their siblings will like the presents they picked out for them than to see what they are getting.
Still, in the very act of congratulating myself for blockading our chimney from the delivery of Santa-baggage, I am wondering if my kids are someday going to resent me for it. In 15 years they’ll probably be blogging away about how their mom deprived them of Christmas magic and stole their childhood. And I’m not sure I would blame them. So much of adulthood is about being practical and cynical. What if they would prefer at least a few years of childish illusion before they enter too soon into the “real” world – a world where plenty of people will lie to them, not out of love or a sense of tradition, but to sell them something or earn their vote. My children have the rest of their lives to be skeptics. What’s the rush?