-Betsy O’Neill-Sheehan, LCSW
She came in from recess tearful about another student misinterpreting her innocent comment about a snowman. For this story, I will call her “Destiny”. Just weeks before Christmas, Destiny’s fate was changing. She was in line for an adoptive placement. Her history and life’s story up to this point had created a personal narrative that said she better not make mistakes or she will be “bad” and no one will want to adopt her. Her peer (also a lovely child) had retorted in defense of her snowman, “Santa’s going to put you on the naughty list!” This comment sprung from innocence had so much weight to its receiver. If she was, in fact, “naughty”, then she felt no one will want to adopt her.
As a part of “Team Santa” this breaks my heart. Not that it was a surprise that the other child said it, because how many times has it been said over the years? And where does it come from? The definition of the word comes from the Old English “nought” which meant “nothing” with a twist of evil connotation. No child is nothing. No child is evil. No child deserves to hear that there is an archaic labelling system that is going to determine their character and the amount of love they are worthy to receive.
There are traditions and origin stories that have built the modern traditions of Santa Claus that span throughout the globe. They have stemmed from times before Christianity and evolved through different cultures and time periods. It is part of the magic of the season. Humans still celebrate the turns of the seasons, the light in the darkness, the hope for the warmth in the world to outshine the cold. Santa and his list are not synonymous. Does it really reflect the true meaning of Christmas? And seriously, do we want our kids thinking there’s an ancient man “watching you” who is going to break into the house, and now possibly leave you coal because you may have made a mistake or struggle regulating and expressing your emotions? What is the narrative we give to them about our traditions, and how will we later explain what we’ve told them? A good reference for that is Martha Brockenbrough’s letter to her daughter, Lucy. She explains how “Team Santa” explains is a culmination of Christmas spirit and surprises (see link below).
As a writer, I have toyed with the idea of writing a book, from the desk of Team Santa, to help us to move away from this idea of “Naughty and Nice.” To get Santa current with the modern day understandings that children, and sometimes more so the children who act out for our connection, need the magic and the love that this season intends. Yes, we have to teach children what acceptable and unacceptable behaviors are, I just don’t think Santa’s the way to do it. While I will put that in my pile of works in progress, the real shift will happen when the adults adopt this narrative that there is no list. There’s no such thing as naughty.
Gmcintyre. (2012, December 14). Possibly The Best Parental Explanation Of Santa Claus We’ve Ever Seen. Retrieved December 14, 2019, from https://wcrz.com/how-to-explain-santa-to-children/.Naughty. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/naughty.Naughty. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2019, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/naughty.