A Contrarian Buddhist Exposes Santa

I said yesterday that I was going to write with total honesty, so I need to come clean about my unconventional views on child rearing, including my Santa Theory and my Bad Word Policy.

First, I have this strange idea that we should give children at least the same respect we show adults. So the Buddhist Fourth Precept — the one about not speaking falsely — applies when we talk with children. Why does lying become OK when Christmas approaches?

Sad Santa ClausI’ll tell you why, and that’s where my Santa Theory comes in. I believe that Santa Claus was invented solely for adults’ egos. Grown-ups invented Santa so they could confirm their feelings of superiority over children. It’s not that adults think children get cuter by believing in Santa. It’s like laughing at one’s own joke. The grown-ups go: “Ain’t I cute. I got junior to fall for Santa again.” Then they celebrate by patting themselves on the back and downing a shot, which violates the Buddhist Fifth Precept.

I’ll admit to feeling particularly grumpy today, but I’m sharing my sincere long-held beliefs. If you don’t like them, stop reading now. You won’t like the rest of this, either.

What’s wrong with telling children that Santa is a story…a symbol? They may choose to believe in him for a while, but they’ll decide when they want to leave the magical thinking behind. In the meantime, you haven’t deceived them. You don’t need to promote the fiction and to show by example that lying is OK if it fools kids and makes adults feel good about themselves.

I also feel that we should speak around children the same way that we do around adults, and for me that includes a lot of F-bombs and S-bombs. I have found that children are smart enough to understand that some language may be OK at home but not at school. So I have my Bad Word Policy, which I adhere to whenever someone complains about the speech of one of my children in an informal setting, like home or the playground.

Here’s one absolutely true example of my policy, exactly as it happened:

My son Carl was 6 or 7 and had an older friend over to play a video game. They were in Carl’s bedroom on the second floor of the house, and I was sitting reading in the family room on the first floor.

The older boy came downstairs and walked over importantly to me. “Mr. Pine,” he said, “Carl used a bad word.”

“Oh yeah?” I replied. “What word did he use?”

“He used the F word.”

With that I locked eyes with the older boy and said: “I don’t give a flying fuck.”

The funny thing is the boy didn’t skip a beat. He cane right back with: “Well, Carl used the S word, too.” And that threw me into a very un-Bhudda-like fury.

Somehow, both of my sons made it through elementary school, middle school and high school without getting into trouble for foul language, despite my being a bad example at home.

And while I’m talking about school, I understand that teachers have been told to involve the parents in their children’s education, but when they start sending the homework to the parents with instructions, and when they give assignments to children that require input from parents, they’ve crossed a line. One thing that does is to put poor families, families with two working parents, and large families at a disadvantage.

Our children can do their own homework and ask for help when they need it. And they can play games outdoors without uniforms and coaches. I managed to play baseball, football and basketball without ever having a coach or a uniform.

And look how I turned out.

Copyright 2015 © Mel Harkrader Pine

7 Comments Add yours

  1. I agree with you completely about Santa. I really don’t get what the big deal is about Santa (or Jehovah, for that matter) having to be literally real. I figured out that Santa didn’t exist and the gifts were delivered by my parents when I was around 4 years old, and I remember that being a *good* experience: I felt clever and smart that I had figured it out by myself. I wasn’t disappointed and I didn’t feel betrayed. And I still enjoyed watching Christmas movies and TV shows and thinking about the Santa story as a metaphor or symbol. I can get on board with the writer of “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” without having to be fundamentalist about it! That’s the way I’ve handled it with my kids as well, and “believing in Santa” or not has always been a complete non-issue for us.

    It’s easy to map the same phenomenon onto organized religion. There is so much foolishness and hurt feelings around the insistence (by some) on these stories having to be literally true. I don’t get it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. melhpine says:

      The difference is, all the adults know that Santa is a symbol. But the people insisting that religious imagery is real believe it themselves. Or at least they say they do.


      1. Right. But I find it perplexing nonetheless. I was raised in a Presbyterian church. It was pretty liberal by the standards of the day, and I was given the book, “The Christian Agnostic” by the church as a confirmation gift. I somewhat naievely thought that everyone stopped believing in the literal truth of the Bible as they grew up, much as they stopped believing in the literal truth of the Santa myth. That’s what happened to me and I didn’t think it was that unusual. But I had a rude awakening in my 20’s with a Lutheran boyfriend who was quite theologically conservative. As we were breaking up, he said he’d had a similar shock about me. He’d never thought he’d meet someone who didn’t believe in God who still went to church. I don’t think he believed such people existed, or if they did (since he was dating one), there was something really wrong with them. Shortly after that I became a UU and it seemed clear that’s where I belonged.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. melhpine says:

        Have you ever read any Thich Nhat Hanh or listened to him? He has this (to me) charming way of talking as though we all are where you were before your rude awakening. I remember very clearly something he said during a retreat I did with him in the late 1990s: “It’s OK when you are first starting out with a religious practice to think that God is out there. But as you mature in your practise you realize that God is inside.”

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I have not read him. But I like the unexpected twist from outside to inside. One could say the same thing about Santa, that you come to realize that he (or, the “spirit of Christmas”) is inside us.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. amiezor says:

    Loved this entry. The thoroughly Midwestern core of me is always shaken a bit by blatant swearing! But I agree – “bad” words are words of passion and intimidation, and they should not be glossed over for children. They should know when it is appropriate to use them.
    As for Santa – I intend to talk about him, and do the presents thing with my daughter, but by no means am I going to go out of my way to pull one over on her. Indeed – it is more of a “spirit of giving” that I hope to spark.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. melhpine says:

      Seems to me that being authentic is a much better way to encourage the spirit of giving than hiding behind some fat stranger in red with a white beard. Consider a Christmas Day tradition of giving to a stranger instead of taking from one — a homeless person, for example.

      Liked by 1 person

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