By Samuel Keyes
The time has come. Yesterday, as soon as my kindergartener stepped off the bus, he started excitedly telling us about how there is an elf in the classroom. “Oh, really?” we said.
“Yes,” he said. And this elf would move each day, and he is very interested in whether everyone is good.
Later, my wife continued the conversation: “You know that elves are just make-believe, right?”
“Of course they’re not,” he said. “They’re really real, because Santa has elves as helpers!”
I am not opposed to the idea of Santa Claus. I would prefer to focus, as our family has, on St. Nicholas, the real historical figure with less credible legends attached to him. Christians who do Santa, straight up, play a somewhat complicated and arguably dangerous game. Perhaps it is possible to make distinctions, but I do not like the idea that the imaginative made-up mythic world of Santa should associate itself too closely with the imaginative, real mythic world of Israel’s God and the history of salvation. If one unseen figure from childhood turns out to be false, it’s not hard to see how children may assume all such unseen figures were merely the work of overactive parental storytelling.
So you can imagine the kind of cold fury my wife and I felt when we discovered that our son’s public school kindergarten classroom was being subjected to the latest invasion of mythology into the difficult world of child discipline. You can be sure that there will be nothing at the school about Christmas proper. There is a slightly better chance (but I’m not holding out hope) of acknowledging Hanukkah. But you can place bets on the likelihood that every book and activity in the next few weeks will be focused on Santa, elves, reindeer, Rudolph, Frosty, and the Grinch.
In the same way, no one seems to bat an eye at the obsessive focus on Halloween stories and songs, not to mention the constant creation of new and exciting holy days like Anti-Bullying Week, Grandparents Day, World Peace Day, Smile Day, and so on.
It seems that we take great delight in teaching and promulgating every possible myth but the one that is true. The story of creation and redemption, of human nature and its history, of sinners and saints — this is not even an option in the cornucopia of stories. Were the curriculum focused in any rigorous secular way on math, science, or reading I would worry less. But the secular has matured into a religious identity. It encompasses all, narrating the true stories out of existence with the bombardment of the trivial.
Lord help us. Resistance in this system, as it is, may be futile. There are reasons that so many Christian parents have sought independent, parochial, or homeschool options. We do not have that luxury at the moment. Private schools are too expensive and far away. Homeschool networks — especially the interesting Catholic ones with great co-op features — thrive in other areas but not ours, and we simply do not feel capable of going it alone.
So resistance it is. But how? I think the main tool for us can only be the prayer that our stories are better. We will continue trying, in our weak and stumbling way, to practice Christianity at home, to tell its stories, to develop its imaginative possibilities from the true myths at its heart. We will force our children into as much church as we can manage, resisting wherever we can the metanarrative of unmoored freedom of choice. We will reject the temptations of the sport culture demanding specialization from the age of 4 or 5. We will reject the temptation to treat preschool as the training camp for being a CEO or President or pop star. We will live as if the world is real, as if there are stories we did not choose, as if certain demands must be met whether we feel like it or not.
And we will almost certainly keep having babies. It’s a long-term strategy, to be sure, but we can hope and remember that the reason secular pagans so delight in controlling education is that they fundamentally dislike the idea of children. But the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these, and that kingdom’s Lord has, we can be sure, particular judgments for those who seek to take it away from them.