Killing the Magic
December 9, 2014 10:37 AM   Subscribe

When a grown woman and her seventy-something mother engage in yearly debates about the existence of Santa, I think we can agree: there’s a problem. Of course, my mother believes the problem is mine, while I tag her as the source of the annual angst. But who’s telling this story?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 (17 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
That was so lovely, and in a few ways, I could totally relate. Thank you.
posted by 41swans at 11:00 AM on December 9, 2014


I really loved this article. It really spoke to me and reinforced that if I ever have children, I want to raise them Jewish (as I was) even though I'm an avowed atheist. The sense of cultural identity has always been a comfort and a strength for me and I would like my children to have that option as well . That being said, it's also important for me not to pass on the idea that Jews are 'special' [read: better/smarter] that I was raised hearing about.
posted by Strass at 11:03 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


My own kids, I vowed, would be something.

I really like this essay, but that bit in particular really struck me. I was raised Unitarian Universalist, and it always felt like nothing to me. With no creed or set liturgy and worship practices in our Congregation that seemed to change with every new pastor or change in congregational leadership, I didn't feel like it offered it me much in the way of traditions or identity (other folks raised UU likely feel different.) I, too, swore that my children would be raised within some particular religious tradition.
posted by Area Man at 11:19 AM on December 9, 2014


Interesting, am I the only one who wasn't raised in any particular religious tradition (my parents come from two different religions, and were not particularly religious themselves) and feels strongly that she doesn't want to choose one particular tradition to stick with for her kids? Between my husband and me, we have Christian, Jewish and Hindu family and, while I would like my children to appreciate the traditions of each of those religions, I am likely to raise them in as secular a fashion as possible.
posted by peacheater at 11:23 AM on December 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


I too was raised Jewish and no longer practice, but I intend to raise my children to worship Santa and fear his terrible wrath.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:23 AM on December 9, 2014 [15 favorites]


Stories that add charm and make sense of the world, customs that endow human experience and activity with meaning, people to share those ideas with, and a supportive social structure: each of those things about religion I get. I don't get the need for a cultural identity that the author talks about, and their preoccupation with finding an identity that's historically rooted. Dismissing Quakerism after having practiced it "for decades" because it's not old and crunchy enough, as old as Judaism, seems totally arbitrary. What happens when they discover a religion that is older still? Is Hinduism next for this family?
posted by wrabbit at 12:15 PM on December 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


Wow, that really made me feel for the mom. Seems like the author is basically just upset with her for not being Jewish? Because her mom was just trying to do the same thing -- give her kids a sense of tradition and family -- without having access to the religion the author ended up choosing.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:40 PM on December 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


What happens when they discover a religion that is older still?

Then we who sleep beneath will welcome their fragile minds with open tentacles.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:47 PM on December 9, 2014 [9 favorites]


am I the only one who wasn't raised in any particular religious tradition [...] and feels strongly that she doesn't want to choose one particular tradition to stick with for her kids?

Nope. My family couldn't agree on Catholic vs. Protestant and went with "Option C, None of the above", and I've always been pleased as punch about it. The fact that they arrived at that decision basically out of disagreement notwithstanding, I've always thought they made the right call. It seems like far too personal a decision to foist on kids before they are capable of deciding for themselves what they want to do and believe in. I knew a lot of people who struggled mightily in their adolescence with the realization that their parents' chosen faith wasn't for them, and never envied it much; adolescence sucks enough already without having to essentially go through a religious breakup on top of everything else.

The community provided by some churches did always seem pretty nice, though. But in retrospect, the threat of losing an entire community of people unless you continue to toe a theological line that you might not be comfortable with is probably a lot of additional angst that I didn't need to add to my teenage years, either. I had enough problems with maintaining the requisite level of ideological purity for the Boy Scouts.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:48 PM on December 9, 2014


am I the only one who wasn't raised in any particular religious tradition [...] and feels strongly that she doesn't want to choose one particular tradition to stick with for her kids?

Anyone I've ever talked with this about gives me a very strange look. I'm pretty sure your reaction is much more common. My response to this piece was along the lines of, "wow, I'm not the only person who has ever thought that."
posted by Area Man at 1:09 PM on December 9, 2014


My own upbringing was very much like the author's. I was raised by a lapsed Anglican mother and a strict (big-A) Atheist father. My mom went to church about 3 or 4 times a year and my sisters and I were always welcome but never compelled to come along. I think I went twice, ever.

At Christmastime though, Santa was Lord. In an almost overpoweringly creepy way, looking back on it. My mom collected Santa statues, paintings, and figurines and, come December, they would all come out of the closet under the stairs and literally hundreds of Santas--from the tiniest fridge magnet to the life-size stuffed monstrosity--would colonize our house. Indicating any skepticism about Santa was not tolerated and, in my case, as the oldest, likely to be punished as cruelty.

I think I was an early non-believer. I'm pretty sure I had sussed out the Santa truth by the time I started Kindergarten. My sisters definitely held on longer.

As an adult, I'm a borderline big-A Athiest myself. I spent many years practicing Zen buddhism (and to a limited degree still do), but always approached it from the most mind-centred perspective and shunned the more metaphysical aspects. I also, as an Irishman, see value in the traditional Celtic seasonal celebrations but hold no truck with the more religious aspects.

My wife is probably even more Atheist than I am, but comes from a strongly Catholic family and still values many of the attendant traditions.

Our oldest daughter is 4 and a half and being raised as basically a perfect agnostic. From the very beginning though, we have told her that Santa is a fun story and is exactly as real as Dora or Peter Rabbit. The most shocking thing is that she doesn't believe us. And it's not even like her Gran is the one who put this in her head. She has been fully indoctrinated by her kindergarten classmates.

I fully expect a minor poutfest this year when she gets presents and stocking from my wife and I and then asks where her presents from Santa are. She has already asked if she can leave out cookies and milk for Santa (I told her that the Santa that comes to this house is named Daddy and prefers cookies and beer).

I don't know where I'm going with this but I guess I just wanted to say that, even though the disagreements I've had with my mom about this have been pretty minor and she has respected whenever I've put my foot down, I definitely feel the author's pain.
posted by 256 at 1:52 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Dismissing Quakerism after having practiced it "for decades" because it's not old and crunchy enough, as old as Judaism, seems totally arbitrary. What happens when they discover a religion that is older still? Is Hinduism next for this family?

It didn't seem like that was really what was going on there. As far as I can tell, they didn't actually go with Judaism because it was older; they went with it because that's how her husband was raised, and it was the tradition they were willing to compromise on.
posted by Shmuel510 at 1:56 PM on December 9, 2014


Interesting, am I the only one who wasn't raised in any particular religious tradition (my parents come from two different religions, and were not particularly religious themselves) and feels strongly that she doesn't want to choose one particular tradition to stick with for her kids?

My child is the 3rd (4th?) generation of atheists*. this is something we have no particular reason to change.
My wife and I didn't even discuss it before we had children, we both just assumed we'd continue in the same way we were raised.

Though, the other day, she did express interest in going to church on Sunday with one of her friends. I said she could go, but that there was lots of sitting and listening, and it wouldn't be playtime, like the other times she's met her friend during the week.
She changed her mind after that.

* Agnostic? What's the term for a family that doesn't care one way or the other about the existence of any sort of deity?
posted by madajb at 2:19 PM on December 9, 2014


What's the term for a family that doesn't care one way or the other about the existence of any sort of deity?

I have a friend who calls himself an apatheist; he doesn't know whether God exists or not, and he doesn't really care either way.
posted by Shmuel510 at 2:40 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


(On second look, turns out it's a thing!)
posted by Shmuel510 at 2:43 PM on December 9, 2014


My 7 year old son, who goes to a nominally christian school, but knows I'm an atheist and that his mom doesn't really care too much one way or the other, and is himself a sort of free-floating polytheist, asked us flat out to tell him the really real truth about Santa. His mom and I looked at each other, shrugged and said, 'no, there is no Santa'.
He did a double take, and decided not only not to believe us, but to ignore us and pretend we hadn't said anything, and just went on talking about what he thought of Santa, how he got through the chimney, etc.
Basically, he wants to believe in Santa, and doesn't give a flying fuck what we tell him.
Good on him.
posted by signal at 2:56 PM on December 9, 2014 [5 favorites]


Stories that add charm and make sense of the world, customs that endow human experience and activity with meaning, people to share those ideas with, and a supportive social structure: each of those things about religion I get. I don't get the need for a cultural identity that the author talks about

To me the "cultural identity" part means that there there is a group of people out there who you automatically have something in common with and will accept you as part of the group - and I mean strangers, by definition I'm already close to my friends and family. If you accept that definition I think it's absolutely really nice to "be" something. You can be more than one thing but you need a certain depth of involvement in each - and of course when it comes to religion some people will insist on you being only one.

I'd be happy to go with the Quakers, though.
posted by atoxyl at 6:12 PM on December 9, 2014


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